Military plans `campaign' against terrorists, supporters

Nations offering shelter would be among targets

Terrorism Strikes America

The Military Response

September 14, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Pentagon officials said yesterday that they are preparing a military response to this week's terrorist attacks that will go far beyond a single strike, signaling a long-term "campaign" that will target not only the terrorists, but also the countries that support them.

Although defense officials won't say when the first attacks might occur, the options go far beyond the long-range cruise missiles used in past attacks on terrorist sites. Military planners are looking at options including the use of fighter planes and Army commandos who would hunt down terrorists in their hideouts or stage military operations against their state sponsors.

"It will be a campaign, not a single action," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. "And we're going to keep after these people and the people who support them until this stops. And it has to be treated that way."

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Bush is planning a sweeping campaign against terrorist groups that could last several years. The official seemed to be signaling the likelihood that Bush might not act quickly but will act forcefully with a series of strikes. Wolfowitz expanded on Bush's vow that not only terrorists, but also the governments that give them havens, would be targeted.

Terrorism will not stop "if a few criminals are taken care of," Wolfowitz said. The administration's efforts will include "removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states that sponsor terrorism," he said.

Wolfowitz said "a very great portion" of a $20 billion spending request by the administration in response to the attacks will go toward a down payment on the anti-terrorist campaign.

A senior Pentagon official said that a "constant array" of national security meetings had been held at the White House since an estimated 5,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in New York City and the Pentagon, and the crash of a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. Bush and his Cabinet plan to hold another such meeting this weekend at Camp David.

Asked whether the U.S. military response would begin in days or weeks, the official said, "I don't think anybody's there yet."

Where the strikes will be aimed is also uncertain, with Afghanistan the most likely target. Administration officials have confirmed that Osama bin Laden, who is thought to be in Afghanistan, is a prime suspect.

The Saudi-born millionaire and terrorist mastermind has been linked to previous terrorist attacks, included last fall's attack on the USS Cole, which led to the deaths of 17 sailors and the attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell became the first official to publicly label bin Laden as a suspect. Another senior administration official cautioned last night that other terrorist groups could be involved.

In response to the embassy bombings three years ago, the United States attacked bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan, using 70 to 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from Navy ships. The camps were in the mountains and caves near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Bin Laden is thought to have narrowly escaped death in the attack.

The United States might also attack Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, which has few outside allies. The Taliban has been harboring bin Laden for years, ignoring U.S. requests to turn him over.

The Navy has two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Enterprise. The Enterprise, which had been scheduled to return to Norfolk, Va., is remaining in the area, a Pentagon official said. Each carrier has 75 warplanes aboard.

Within 12 hours of the terrorist attacks, planners on the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked each of the services to submit a list of what it would need to begin a more concerted campaign against terrorism, a Pentagon official said. Those requests were due to be completed last night.

Pentagon officials say the administration's decision to target governments that finance and shelter terrorists signals "a major change in how we do business" and foreshadows "a massive campaign."

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East, said he was troubled by the administration's emphasis on a military response to this week's terrorist attacks.

Zinni said the U.S. response should be broader. He favors freezing terrorists' bank accounts, putting political pressure on countries that harbor them and sharing information with police forces overseas in hopes of arresting suspected terrorists.

"The problem you have is that it's difficult to target terrorists," Zinni said. "They don't have a lot of infrastructure. Their base camps are stark and austere. You've got to have something to shoot at. It's not like attacking a conventional military force."

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