A NATION CHALLENGED: THE EVIDENCE; NATO Says U.S. Has Proof Against bin Laden Group
3 October 2001
New York Times
BRUSSELS, Oct. 2 – NATO said today that the United States had provided ”clear and compelling proof” that Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization was behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In response, the alliance said it was ready to fight at the side of the United States should it ask for such help from its 18 NATO allies.
The alliance decision amounted to a final stamp of approval for an attack on Mr. bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and the Taliban government that harbors him in Afghanistan and was one of several signals that some sort of military strike is imminent.
In Washington, Pentagon officials said they were devising a war plan that would use bases in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, as well as aircraft carriers, to avoid extensive deployment of American troops in Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment is strong.
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a stern speech suggesting that a diplomatic solution was impossible in waging the new war on terror. He warned the terrorists, and particularly the Taliban, that they faced a military strike.
For all who oppose terrorism, Mr. Blair said, the choice is to ”defeat it or be defeated by it.”
”This is a battle with only one outcome: our victory, not theirs,” he said. Mr. Blair said actions would aim to eliminate military hardware, cut off finances and disrupt supplies. ”The action we take will be proportionate, targeted; we will do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties.” [Page B1.]
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an interview today with The New York Times, said administration officials had been briefing allies on what he called ”pretty good information” establishing the link between the airplane attacks and Mr. bin Laden. But, he added, ”it is not evidence in the form of a court case.”
Secretary Powell alluded to past crimes attributed to Al Qaeda and Mr. bin Laden, who has been indicted in the United States for the bombings of two American Embassies in East Africa in August 1998 and is suspected of masterminding the bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen harbor last October.
The secretary said the briefings spanned ”the history of the organization and the fact that we have every right to go after them because they’ve already been indicted, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, for past crimes against the United States and against civilization.”
The briefings also included evidence showing what Secretary Powell called ”additional activities since those indictments that have caused them to become very suspect.” Finally, the briefings contained what the secretary said was ”pretty good information that links them to the events of the 11th of September.”
NATO’s secretary general, Lord Robertson, referring to the evidence presented by Frank X. Taylor, the United States ambassador at large, as ”classified,” said only that ”the facts are clear and compelling.”
”We know that the individuals who carried out these attacks were part of the worldwide terrorist network of Al Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants and protected by the Taliban,” he said.
One Western official at NATO said the briefings, which were oral, without slides or documents, did not report any direct order from Mr. bin Laden, nor did they indicate that the Taliban knew about the attacks before they happened.
A senior diplomat for one closely allied nation characterized the briefing as containing ”nothing particularly new or surprising,” adding: ”It was descriptive and narrative rather than forensic. There was no attempt to build a legal case.”
The evidence was built not only on information from the United States, but also on what some allies have discovered, including the Germans, an official in Europe said.
While NATO deemed the evidence sufficient to make the case for an attack, Pakistan appeared to find it less convincing. The United States ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, briefed the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, today on the links established between Mr. bin Laden and the attacks.
But Riaz Muhammad Khan, the spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, said the American envoy had not provided conclusive proof.
Lord Robertson was reticent about the kind of military action being contemplated.
”The United States are still developing their thinking and they will come back to the alliance in due course when that thinking is crystallized,” he said.
At a NATO meeting last week, some European nations pressed for evidence that would justify attacks on Mr. bin Laden. A compelling case is considered crucial by many diplomats if America is to keep its support for a military campaign, particularly from countries like as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers face skeptical Muslim populations.
But just how much information to share has been the subject of debate among Mr. Bush’s advisers. Some European officials suggested that Washington was still withholding some information about aspects of the case.
NATO moved swiftly to offer political support the day after the Sept. 11 attacks. It said then that it would invoke the mutual defense clause for the first time in the alliance’s 52-year history ”if it was determined that the attack was directed from abroad.” The clause, devised during the cold war as a mechanism to bring the United States automatically to Europe’s defense in the event of a Soviet invasion, considers an attack on one member an attack on them all.
Today’s action effectively removed the if from the Sept. 12 statement.
Whether Washington will ask for military support from NATO remains an open question.
Just last week, Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, suggested it was unlikely that Washington would turn to NATO. ”If we need collective action, we will ask for it,” he said after meeting with NATO members in Brussels. ”We don’t anticipate that at the moment.”
Mr. Blair’s tone today suggested that Britain intended to be part of any military action, a pattern that fits with previous strikes against Iraq and the air war over Kosovo.
Britain is one of the few European countries with special forces trained to do the quick, surgical missions that analysts believe the United States will want to conduct against targets like terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
Otherwise, military analysts say, NATO members may actually have very little to offer the United States, particularly because they largely lack the equipment and resources to fight a war far from home.
The NATO command structure also proved unwieldy during the war over Kosovo. Getting a consensus on targets to bomb proved long and difficult. Nor was it easy, with 19 representatives involved, to keep them secret.
Instead, the United States may pick and choose among its allies, fashioning the moral authority of an international coalition without having to deal with the problems of the whole alliance.
Even with the invocation of the mutual defense clause, called Article 5 in the founding treaty, any decision to embark on joint military action would require further deliberation. But NATO officials said each member country was now morally bound to help the United States if asked.
In Brussels for two days of talks with officials of NATO and the European Union, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he did not need to see the American presentation to be satisfied that Mr. bin Laden was behind the attacks on the United States.
”For us it is already clear,” he told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium. ”The only thing we do not know is the exact role he played.”
Mr. Putin, who in a switch in Russia’s traditional tactics has swiftly thrown his political support behind the United States, said he was prepared to ”profoundly change” Moscow’s relationships with both NATO and the European Union’s fledgling security bodies in the global battle against terrorism.
Photo: NATO’s secretary general, Lord Robertson, at a news conference in Brussels. He called the case against Osama bin Laden compelling. (Associated Press)(pg. B4)