Bush won't bargain for bin Laden

Injured: Lala Bidal takes his son Hazrat, 4, to the X-ray room at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Both were wounded in what the Taliban said was a U.S. air attack Thursday on Majpoorbal, near Jalalabad.
WASHINGTON - President Bush sternly rejected a Taliban offer to discuss handing over Osama bin Laden to a third country as U.S. jets began a second week of bombing yesterday.

"They must have not heard. There's no negotiations," the president said.

Returning to the White House after a weekend at the Camp David retreat, Bush reiterated four conditions the Taliban must meet before bombing will be stopped.

"All they got to do is turn him [bin Laden] over, and his colleagues and the thugs he hides, as well as destroy his camps and [release] the innocent people being held hostage in Afghanistan," Bush said.

The latter was an apparent reference to eight foreign aid workers imprisoned in Afghanistan. The administration had avoided calling them "hostages." In his speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, Bush said they had been "unjustly imprisoned." A White House spokeswoman said she believed it was the first time that Bush had publicly used the word "hostage."

Bush rejected any negotiations as a Taliban leader suggested the Afghan government would be willing to discuss surrendering bin Laden to a third country if the United States provided evidence of his guilt and stopped bombing.

"There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt," Bush said. "We know he's guilty." While Bush returned to the White House, his Cabinet members mobilized at home and abroad.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice sought to quell fears that the terrorists might have crude nuclear weapons. A defense official said last week that if the terrorists have obtained nuclear material, they might be able to make a weapon that could spread radiation without a destructive explosion. "We have no credible evidence at this point of a specific threat of that kind," Rice said on CBS' 60 Minutes last night.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said investigators want to question about 190 people who might have knowledge of terrorism.

And Secretary of State Colin L. Powell left for a high-priority diplomatic mission to Pakistan and India aimed at keeping tensions between those nations from further complicating the military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

Overseas, a U.S. military official said the bombing of Afghanistan has entered a "cleanup mode."

U.S. warplanes have destroyed nearly all of the targets originally assigned to them, including militant training camps and weapons storage areas, the captain of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier said yesterday. His identify could not be disclosed under military rules for covering the operation.

In the latest raids, U.S. jets destroyed Kabul's Chinese-built international telephone exchange, severing one of the last means of communication with the outside world. Residents also said the capital's historic Mogul-style Balahisar Fort, built in the early 20th century, was in ruins. The report could not be confirmed because security kept outsiders from the area.

Other targets included the cities of Mazar e Sharif, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Herat, said the Taliban Information Ministry. Explosions were heard late yesterday well north of Kabul in the direction of the front lines between opposition and Taliban fighters.

One strong detonation about midnight triggered what appeared to be a series of secondary explosions.

A nighttime attack on the Taliban headquarters in Kandahar plunged the city into darkness and enveloped it in dust yesterday, the private Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said. The main target appeared to be military headquarters, it said.

A commander in the coalition battling the Taliban said opposition leaders have organized a 2,000-strong security force to maintain law and order in Kabul if they capture the city.

The lightly armed force would secure the city until a new government can be established, Gen. Haji Almaz Khan said in Charikar, an alliance stronghold 25 miles north of Kabul.

The United States and its partners have been urging the opposition to avoid launching an all-out attack on Kabul until a broad-based government can be formed to replace the Taliban. Most of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtun; the alliance is dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Taliban intelligence chief Qari Ahmedullah appealed to opposition fighters yesterday to join in the battle against America for "our religion and country."

"We will forget our past differences with those who join us now," he said in a statement distributed by the Afghan Islamic Press.

Bush ignored a reporter's question about whether he wants to install a new government if the Taliban fall. Rice sought to strike a delicate balance on the issue.

"America cannot choose the future government of Afghanistan. Only the Afghan people can chose the future government of Afghanistan," she said. But, she added, "we have no reason to leave an Afghanistan that its neighbors have to fear for instability."

Earlier yesterday, a spokesman for the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan said that sending bin Laden to the United States for a trial would be "a joke" and that it was a mistake for U.S. officials to focus narrowly on him when other terrorists are in a position to strike.

Ashcroft dismissed the explanation as propaganda and addressed a fresh round of terrorist threats against Americans and world leaders by bin Laden supporters.

On the legal front, Ashcroft asked Americans to remain vigilant for signs of another terrorist attack as "a preparedness, not a paralysis, not a panic."

Since last month, the Taliban have banned most foreign journalists from entering the roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan under the religious militia's control. This weekend, however, they allowed a group of international journalists to visit Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. jets allegedly destroyed a village last week.

When the journalists arrived under Taliban escort at the village, Karam, angry residents pointed to ruined mud and stone homes and freshly dug graves as evidence of the purported American attack.

"What do I have left? Nothing," said one villager, Toray, in the roofless hut where he said his wife and five children died. He waved a shard of jagged metal, which had the words "fin-guided missile" printed in English on its side.

Taliban officials insisted there were no military targets in the area. However, bin Laden was believed to operate terrorist training camps in the province.

Reports of civilian deaths have caused unease in Pakistan, where small but vocal Islamic political parties that admire the Taliban are enraged by government support for campaign on Afghanistan.

Yesterday, thousands of Muslim extremists converged on the city of Jacobabad, site of one of two airfields that Pakistani officials privately say the Americans have been allowed to use to support the campaign, though not to launch attacks on Afghanistan.

The protesters tried to storm the base. Police and paramilitary forces sealed off Jacobabad to outsiders and used tear gas to disperse rioters in a series of running battles around the city.

The riot occurred one day before Powell was expected to visit Pakistan.

Though Powell's schedule was being kept secret, he was expected to be in Islamabad today and visit New Delhi before setting off for talks with counterparts from 20 other countries at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Shanghai, China, on Oct. 17 and 18.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Powell would discuss the shape of a future Afghan government with Pakistan's rulers.

He said that the United States did not want to tell Afghans how to run their country but that history showed they did best in a loose federation with a high degree of local autonomy.

U.S. officials say Powell will thank Pakistan and India for their support in Washington's war against terrorism after attacks Sept. 11 with hijacked planes on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, outside Washington.

President Pervez Musharraf has promised tough action against violent protests that have erupted on Pakistani streets against his leadership's support for Washington.

The United States is anxious to avoid further escalation in violence in the disputed territory of Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.