Hoon: Ground troops an 'option'
MOSCOW, Russia -- British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has said that no decision had yet been taken on launching a ground campaign in Afghanistan.
Hoon, speaking in Moscow after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov on Tuesday, said that a ground operation to follow the air strikes launched at the weekend was only one of a number of options being considered.
"As far as any ground operations are concerned, clearly we are preparing plans to allow us to look at that as an option," he told reporters.
"But they are options. We have taken no decision on a ground campaign. We have only just started the very first part of the military campaign (in Afghanistan)."
Ivanov said Russia remained solidly behind the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition.
But he said Moscow believed it would be foolish to try to impose the Northern Alliance, which opposes the ruling Taliban and controls some territory in the north of the country, as Afghanistan's next rulers.
He said: "We support the use of any force in the fight against international terrorism, wherever it be.
"It is not just a question of Afghanistan; the so-called terrorist cells, their organisations (and) financial support cover the entire world.
"The fight against terrorism can never be just a matter of the use of force. The military ... are necessary only when the disease has already got a serious hold."
Hoon is in Moscow to discuss military cooperation and efforts to combat international terrorism with Ivanov .
The talks were also expected to cover strategic stability and Russia's relations with NATO.
On Monday, Hoon said that no timetable had been set for the current allied strikes, but he added: "I anticipate that it is more likely to be a matter of days rather than weeks.
"This is the first phase of our attacks on the Taliban regime, on bringing Osama bin Laden to account."
Hoon repeated that sending in ground troops in the wake of the air strikes was "one of the options we are looking at."
He told the BBC: "There have been no specific decisions taken yet about ground forces but obviously we are looking at the most effective way of ensuring that in Afghanistan there is a government that no longer harbours terrorism.
"That is certainly something we will have to look at, but obviously we are hoping that the present strikes deliver the situation in Afghanistan that we want to see."
Hoon did not rule out British and U.S. forces engaging in military strikes against other countries suspected of harbouring terrorists, but said bin Laden and the Taliban were the "primary objective."
"The prime minister has made it clear we will root out international terrorism wherever it arises, so it could follow that once we have dealt with the situation in Afghanistan we could turn our attention elsewhere," he said.
"But I believe very strongly that the signals we are sending to Afghanistan and around the world will be sufficient to encourage other countries to recognise they can no longer support international terrorism."
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