As you know from the announcement by President Bush, military action against targets inside Afghanistan has begun. I can confirm that U.K. forces are engaged in this action. I want to pay tribute, if I might, right at the outset to Britain's armed forces. There is no greater strength for a British prime minister and the British nation at a time like this than to know that the forces we are calling upon are amongst the very best in the world. They and their families are, of course, carrying an immense burden at this moment and will be feeling deep anxiety, as will the British people. But we can take pride in their courage, their sense of duty and the esteem with which they're held throughout the world.
No country lightly commits forces to military action and the inevitable risks involved. But we made it clear following the attacks upon the United States on September 11 that we would take part in action once it was clear who was responsible. There is no doubt in my mind, nor in the mind of anyone who has been through all the available evidence, including intelligence material, that these attacks were carried out by the Al Qaeda network, masterminded by Osama bin Laden. Equally it is clear that his network is harbored and supported by the Taliban regime inside Afghanistan.
It is now almost a month since the atrocity occurred, it is more than two weeks since an ultimatum was delivered to the Taliban to yield up the terrorists or face the consequences. It is clear beyond doubt that they will not do this. They were given the choice of siding with justice or siding with terror, and they chose to side with terror.
There are three parts, all equally important to the operation in which we're engaged: military, diplomatic and humanitarian.
The military action we are taking will be targeted against places we know to be involved in the Al Qaeda network of terror or against the military apparatus of the Taliban. This military plan has been put together mindful of our determination to do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties. I cannot disclose, obviously, how long this action will last, but we will act with reason and resolve. We have set the objectives to eradicate Osama bin Laden's network of terror and to take action against the Taliban regime that is sponsoring him.
As to the precise British involvement, I can confirm that last Wednesday the United States government made a specific request that a number of U.K. military assets be used in the operation which has now begun, and I gave authority for these assets to be deployed. They include the base at Diego Garcia, reconnaissance and other aircraft, and missile-firing submarines. The missile-firing submarines are in use tonight; the air assets will be available for use in the coming days.
The United States are obviously providing the bulk of the force required in leading this operation, but this is an international effort. As well as the U.K., France, Germany, Australia and Canada have also committed themselves to take part in it.
On the diplomatic and political front, in the time I've been prime minister I cannot recall a situation that has commanded so quickly such a powerful coalition of support, and not just from those countries involved in military action, but from many others in all parts of the world. That coalition has, I believe, strengthened, not weakened, in the 26 days since the atrocity occurred. And this is in no small measure due to the statesmanship of President Bush, to whom I pay tribute tonight. The world understands that whilst of course there are dangers in action, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater: the threat of further such outrages, the threat to our economies, the threat to the stability of the world.
On the humanitarian front we are assembling a coalition of support for refugees in and outside Afghanistan, which is as vital as the military coalition. Even before Sept. 11, four million Afghans were on the move. There are two million refugees in Pakistan and one and a half million in Iran.
We have to act for humanitarian reasons to alleviate the appalling suffering of the Afghan people and to deliver stability so that people from that region stay in that region. Britain, of course, is heavily involved in that humanitarian effort. So we are taking action, therefore, on all those three fronts: military, diplomatic and humanitarian.
I also want to say very directly to the British people why this matters so much directly to Britain. First, let us not forget that the attacks of Sept. 11 represented the worst terrorist outrage against British citizens in our history. The murder of British citizens, whether it happens overseas or not, is an attack upon Britain.
But even if no British citizen had died, it would be right to act. This atrocity was an attack on us all, on people of all faiths and people of none. We know the Al Qaeda network threatened Europe including Britain and, indeed, any nation throughout the world that does not share their fanatical views. So we have a direct interest in acting in our own self-defense to protect British lives.
It was also an attack not just on lives but on livelihoods. We can see since the 11th of September how economic confidence has suffered, what all that means for British jobs and British industry. Our prosperity and standard of living, therefore, require us to deal with this terrorist threat.
We act also because the Al Qaeda network and the Taliban regime are funded in large part on the drugs trade: 90 percent of all the heroin sold on British streets originates from Afghanistan. Stopping that trade is again directly in our interests.
I wish to say finally, as I've said many times before, that this is not a war with Islam. It angers me, as it angers the vast majority of Muslims, to hear bin Laden and his associates described as Islamic terrorists. They are terrorist pure and simple. Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion and the acts of these people are wholly contrary to the teachings of the Koran.
These are difficult and testing times, therefore, for all of us. People are bound to be concerned about what the terrorists may seek to do in response. I should say there is at present no specific credible threat to the U.K. that we know of, and that we have in place tried and tested contingency plans which are the best possible response to any further attempts at terror.
This of course is a moment of the utmost gravity for the world. None of the leaders involved in this action want war. None of our nations want it, we are a peaceful people. But we know that sometimes to safeguard peace we have to fight. Britain has learned that lesson many times before in our history. We only do it if the cause is just, but this cause is just. The murder of almost 7,000 innocent people in America was an attack on our freedom, our way of life, an attack on civilized values the world over.
We waited so that those responsible could be yielded up by those shielding them. That offer was refused. We have now no choice so we will act and our determination in acting is total: We will not let up or rest until our objectives are met in full.