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EU Leaders Support Attacks on al-Qaida, Ponder Afghan Future - 2001-10-19

European Union leaders have reaffirmed their strong support for the U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan and say the elimination of the al-Qaida network, which they blame for terrorist attacks on the United States, is a legitimate goal. EU leaders, who met in Ghent, Belgium Friday, are also anticipating the future of Afghanistan.

Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters after the meeting, that he and his colleagues had expressed what he called their unequivocal support for U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan. Verhofstadt said such operations are legitimate and targeted at the perpetrators of the attacks on New York and Washington and those who harbor them.

"So we make quite clear that the military operations are legitimate, that they comply with United Nations provisions, that they are targeted, and we will continue to do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties or as few as possible," Mr. Verhofstadt said.

Some EU governments have voiced concern in recent days about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Others are worried that such casualties might inflame anti-war sentiment in Europe. Thousands of anti-globalization, turned anti-war demonstrators, marched in Ghent during the summit, but there were no incidents.

One thing the European Council, made up of the EU leaders, is demanding forthrightly is that the al-Qaida network headed by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in terrorist attacks against the U.S., be destroyed.

"In Afghanistan, the objective is quite clear," said Mr. Verhofstadt. "We want to eliminate the al-Qaida terrorist organization, which is responsible for the eleventh of September attacks, and, as the council recalls, the leaders of which have not been handed over by the Taleban regime."

Mr. Verhofstadt had submitted a draft to his colleagues that also called for the elimination of the Taleban, but the document was watered down to urge the establishment of a new government in Afghanistan under the auspices of the United Nations.

"This must be a stable, legitimate and representative government," said the Belgian prime minister. "It must be representative of the whole of the Afghan people. It also has to be a government which respects human rights and which can develop good relations with all neighboring countries."

Once that new government is set up, say the Europeans, they will commit themselves to a massive aid program aimed at reconstructing Afghanistan and resettling the millions of Afghans who have fled their country over the past 20 years.