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NATO allies offer to take on larger role in U.S. war on terrorism

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration is sorting through offers from the NATO allies to take on a larger role in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Italy and Spain have come forward, while France said Thursday it was considering an ``air contribution.''

In sharp contrast to foot-dragging in the U.S.-led campaign in 1999 to force Serbian troops out of Kosovo, all the allies are giving unflinching support to the United States, a well-placed administration official said Thursday.

The NATO allies have declared the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks an attack on all of them. On Friday, NATO will send five radar planes to the United States from Germany and Turkey to replace the U.S. AWACs assigned to the combat zone.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, there has been no second-guessing, no Monday morning quarterbacking on the way the United States is carrying out its military offensive, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The allies are sharing intelligence with the United States and are rooting out terrorists from a wide range of groups including al-Qaida, the official said.

He singled out Luxembourg, the smallest member of the alliance but a major banking center, for taking aggressive action to freeze accounts of terrorist groups.

NATO also was sending backup forces to the Eastern Mediterranean, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday.

French Gen. Jean-Paul Raffene has been meeting with U.S. military officials at the U.S Central Command in Florida to discuss an ``air contribution'' to the U.S. strikes over Afghanistan, said Jean-Francois Bureau. He said no decision has been made on the nature of French role. Two French vessels are already playing a support role.

Britain joined with the United States in the air attack on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia when it began last Sunday. President Bush has said that Australia, Canada, France and Germany have pledged forces.

The campaign of eradicating terrorism around the globe is ``our calling,'' Bush said Wednesday as he conferred with Lord Robertson, the secretary-general of NATO, at the White House.

Decisions on how to use the NATO allies are being made on a case-by-case basis, using each country according to its capabilities, a U.S. official said.

``This has been coalition-building at its very best. NATO will, of course, be one of the key pillars of that coalition,'' said Robertson Wednesday.

He said that the Bush administration has been ``rallying the world behind a common purpose in a way only the United States of America can do.''

Presiding over an Organization of the Islamic Conference emergency session Wednesday, Qatar's Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani condemned the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

He said retaliation, however, ``should not extend to any but those who carried out those attacks. This requires providing conclusive evidence against the culprits.''

During their meeting in Doha, Qatar, the Muslim leaders questioned whether the evidence so far justifies the continuing U.S. assault on Afghanistan or if innocent civilians were being caught up in the war on terror.

Powell said he was very pleased with results of the Muslim conference, especially ``when we consider the kind of statement that might have come out.''

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was asked Thursday on CBS' ``Early Show,'' if his country was concerned that the U.S. coalition included Arab states that might be sponsoring terrorism against Israel.

Peres said he recognizes that it ``requires a certain coalition'' to find Osama bin Laden and his supporters. ``But in the second stage, which will come very early there must be an overall strategy against terror of any form and any sort,'' he said.
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