BLAIR: WE'RE WINNING; Rebels Take Taliban Stronghold Bin Laden in Nuclear Threat
Byline: BY JOHN DEANE
THE momentum of the military campaign in Afghanistan is firmly with the attacking allies following the capture of the strategically important northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Prime Minister Tony Blair said last night.
Mr Blair said the success by Northern Alliance forces, aided by the allies' bombing campaign, opened up the possibility of the Afghan opposition securing significant tracts of territory.
He said: "I think it is clear that the momentum is obviously with the international coalition, the Northern Alliance having taken Mazar-e-Sharif and now with the possibility of securing the northern part of Afghanistan."
As Mr Blair was speaking, the alliance announced that they had made further gains yesterday, sweeping into four more provinces in the north.
The capture of Mazar-e-Sharif was the biggest success since President George W Bush launched air strikes on October 7 to force the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The fall of the city opens up a land bridge to neighbouring Uzbekistan that will allow a flood of weapons and supplies to be ferried to the opposition alliance. It also gives US-led forces their first major staging ground in Afghanistan for the campaign against the Taliban.
Mr Blair, speaking shortly before taking part in a meeting of Labour's National Policy Forum at the party's headquarters at Millbank, Westminster, also responded to bin Laden's claim to have access to nuclear and chemical weapons.
"What we do know is that any weapons of mass destruction that he can get, he will, " said Mr Blair.
"And that is one reason why it is so important that we carry on with the action we are taking, to make sure that we close down that whole terrorist network in Afghanistan.
"And then to make sure that the international coalition against the terrorists starts taking action in respect of all the different aspects of it around the world where we can, how they are financed, how they move across the frontiers, how they acquire weapons."
The importance of the coalition allies taking broader action against terrorist networks around the world was underlined too by President Bush.
In a speech to the United Nations' General Assembly in New York, he insisted that all countries share an urgent obligation to battle terrorism.
"For every regime that sponsors terror, there is a price to be paid and it will be paid, " Mr Bush said, adding: "The time for action has now arrived. …