Airstrikes May Pause for Ramadan

A pause in military strikes in Afghanistan for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is ``being considered'' though past wars among Islamic countries have not had such cease-fires, Britain's foreign secretary said Sunday. 

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the Allies were sensitive to the religious implications of continuing the campaign during Ramadan, which begins in mid-November.

A halt to military action ``is being considered, but I have to say that if you look at the history of warfare in Islamic countries ... there have not been pauses during Ramadan.'' He cited the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran and the 1979-89 Soviet war in Afghanistan.

His comments on a British Broadcasting Corp. talk show came as Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to assure the nation the U.S.-led war was morally defensible.

Pakistan and other Muslim nations backing the campaign against Usama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terror network have expressed increasing unease about the prospect of war during Ramadan.

But a delay would cost the Allies considerable momentum at a critical time. By the end of the holy month, the harsh Afghan winter will have set in, limiting air and ground operations.

Top U.S. officials have said Washington is prepared to keep up the fight through Ramadan, if necessary.

British officials warned Saturday that the war would not be easy or painless, but Blair said he was confident of victory.

``Whatever our faults, Britain is a very moral nation with a strong sense of right and wrong, and that moral fiber will defeat the fanaticism of the terrorists and their supporters,'' the prime minister said.

After announcing Friday that British Marines are being put in position for attacks against the Taliban, the government and military have spent the weekend cautioning that the campaign could drag on for years.

``This kind of military action may last indefinitely,'' Straw said.

As reports of civilian casualties mount along with questions over the effectiveness of the air campaign, Straw said the government was at pains to remind Britons why the conflict was happening — and what gains had been made.

``We have broken up the terrorist camps. People seem to forget about that. They are inoperable,'' he said. ``One of the objectives we have set has happened.''

The foreign secretary denied Iraqi claims that military objectives have expanded to include action aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein.

``The only military action on the agenda is in Afghanistan,'' Straw said, adding that there was not ``an explicit military aim'' to remove the Taliban from power although a new Afghan regime appeared inevitable.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was quoted in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper as saying ``it is just a matter of time'' before Britain and the United States attack his country under the pretext of a war on terrorism.