The United States and Britain launched attacks on at least three cities in Afghanistan on Sunday in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, President Bush said.
Bush said the strikes follow the Taliban’s refusal to meet U.S. demands to turn over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. officials blame for the September 11 attacks.
“More than two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps, hand over leaders of the Al Qaeda network and return all foreign nationals, including American citizens unjustly detained in our country,” Bush said. “None of these demands were met. And now, the Taliban will pay a price.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Britain was participating in the strikes in a televised address from London. “This is a moment of the utmost gravity in the world,” he said.
“Our determination in acting is total. We will not let up or rest until our objectives are met in full,” Blair said.
The first strikes occurred about 8:45 p.m. Sunday (12:45 p.m. EDT). A source in Kandahar told CNN a second and heavier wave of strikes hit that city about an hour later.
The Pentagon said the coalition was targeting air defenses, terrorist training camps and other strategic military targets linked to the Taliban. Pentagon officials confirmed that the strikes began with cruise missile strikes launched from U.S. and British ships in the Arabian Sea, including at least one British submarine. U.S. fighter planes from aircraft carriers also were involved, Pentagon sources said.
Witnesses in Kandahar told CNN that at least three explosions rocked the city and power was out. Explosions were also reported in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and in Jalalabad, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
A senior Taliban official in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, told CNN their command and radar systems at the Kandahar airport had been destroyed, but he said the group does not rely entirely on that equipment.
Bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan as a guest of the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic militia that rules most of Afghanistan, since they seized power in 1996.
U.S. officials say he and his al Qaeda organization are the prime suspects in the attacks that leveled the World Trade Center’s twin towers and seriously damaged the Pentagon. More than 5,000 people are presumed dead after hijackers plunged fuel-laden commercial jetliners into those buildings: A fourth jet crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers tried to overpower the hijackers.
The United States began moving warships, aircraft and troops to southwest Asia in the weeks after the attacks. At the same time, U.S. diplomats worked to assemble a broad coalition of nations to support an international campaign against terrorism, including its NATO allies, Russia, Japan and moderate Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Bush administration began sharing the results of its investigation into the September 11 attack with key allies, including the NATO countries and Pakistan, on October 2.
The United States designated bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization a terrorist group in 1999. The organization has maintained training camps in Afghanistan for several years, and those camps were the target of a 1998 U.S. strike after bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed more than 200 people.
Bin Laden faces criminal charges in the United States in connection with those bombings, and testimony in the trials of four men convicted of those attacks linked them to al Qaeda.