- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

The United States retains the freedom to act unilaterally even as it enlists a growing number of allies in the global war against terrorism, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a congressional hearing yesterday.
Mr. Powell, testifying before the House International Relations Committee, offered a lengthy rebuttal to critics both inside the government and beyond who said the U.S. effort to win the war in Afghanistan had taken a back seat to the diplomatic need to keep a broad coalition of allies united.
The coalition "does not restrain [President Bush] in the slightest," Mr. Powell said.
"As we pulled this coalition together, we made sure that the president retained all of his constitutional authority," Mr. Powell said. "Obviously, when you have a coalition, you have to be considerate of the interests of all the members, but the president in no way gave away any of his authority to act as he saw fit and may see fit in the future to protect American interests."
Discussing the future of Afghanistan after the anticipated fall of the ruling Taliban regime, Mr. Powell told lawmakers yesterday it was his "personal view" that the United Nations could be called on to establish an interim administration in Kabul until a workable new government could be formed.
He cited U.N. mandates in East Timor and Cambodia as precedents.
"I think after a period of time performing that role, hopefully, an Afghan government will get its sea legs and be able to take over," Mr. Powell said.
With states as diverse as Pakistan, Iran, Russia and Egypt offering various levels of assistance in the campaign, the United States has had to balance the military campaign targeting the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda network against regional rivalries, economic interests and domestic pressures among its allies.
Pakistan, for instance, has deep doubts about the Northern Alliance, the umbrella group of opposition Afghan factions fighting the Taliban. Critics have charged that the relatively light bombing of Taliban forces in the north so far reflects U.S. fears that a premature collapse of the Taliban could unnerve Islamabad and upset the coalition.
A summit of Asian-Pacific powers in Shanghai last week stopped short of endorsing the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, reportedly because the subject was too sensitive in Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim-majority states.
But Mr. Powell told lawmakers that "without this coalition, we wouldn't be able to wage this war." He said Mr. Bush's determination to attack the infrastructure of bin Laden's network couldn't work without aid from dozens of governments.
Despite Pakistan's critical role, Mr. Powell said, Pakistan would not be able to dictate the makeup of a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan.


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