Retaliation will come, Bush vows

President reassures public that military will take action

Forces `ready to answer'

White House memo indicates that ouster of Taliban is favored

Terrorism Strikes America

September 30, 2001|By David L. Greene | By David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush sought to reassure Americans yesterday that U.S. military forces are being deployed worldwide for "missions to come" in a war against terrorism. Administration officials, meanwhile, gave their strongest indication yet that the United States was working to forcibly remove the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan.

The president conferred by videophone with his national security advisers from Camp David, the Maryland mountain retreat where he has spent every weekend since the terrorist attacks. Joining him for the third week in a row were his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George J. Tenet, as well as chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

"We did not seek this conflict," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "But we will win it. America will act deliberately and decisively, and the cause of freedom will prevail."

As if to underscore the point, the White House released a photo of Bush and his advisers around a table, with a map of Afghanistan in the middle.

Bush's remarks came as the White House began to lay out specific objectives in its campaign against Afghanistan, where administration officials say terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is hiding out.

A recently disclosed internal White House memo, titled "Afghanistan Declaratory Policy," stops just short of saying that toppling the Taliban rulers is an explicit goal. The document, which was obtained by The Sun, is deliberately silent on the question of precisely whom the administration would like to see assume power in that war-torn country.

The Afghan people "deserve peace and stability, freedom from foreign terrorists, and a government that represents all Afghans," says the two-page document, which repeats key themes from Bush's speech to Congress 10 days ago.

"The Taliban do not represent the Afghan people, who never elected or chose the Taliban faction," the memo declares. "We do not want to choose who rules Afghanistan, but we will assist those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan free of terrorism."

The White House has publicly said the U.S. government would support the "repressed" citizens of Afghanistan, but Bush has also insisted that he is not in favor of "nation-building."

Bush said yesterday that the United States "respects the people of Afghanistan," but "we condemn the Taliban." He praised other nations for having further isolated the regime, which is recognized only by neighboring Pakistan.

Any explicit U.S. attempt to overthrow the Taliban government could create tensions with the government of Pakistan, which has become a crucial U.S. ally since Sept. 11. Many Muslims in Pakistan feel close ties to the Taliban, and there is popular admiration for bin Laden as well.

Pakistani officials warned the United States last week against lending support to the Northern Alliance, a rebel group that controls less than 10 percent of Afghanistan and has been trying to overthrow the Taliban regime. Military specialists have said that aligning with the northern rebels could offer U.S. troops an important window through which to infiltrate Afghanistan.

Officials at the Defense Department have said in recent days that an attack on Afghanistan is not imminent and that they are still working to gather intelligence on the terrorists hiding there.

With the nation in an eerie calm 18 days after the terrorist attacks - and many Americans wondering when the United States might deliver on its vow to punish the Taliban for harboring terrorists - Bush tried to remove any doubt about whether military strikes would be part of the counter-terror campaign.

"Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are being deployed to points around the globe, ready to answer when their country calls," he said.

Bush gave no indication when that call might come.

Roughly half the public thinks there is a danger the United States will take too long to launch military action, according to a nationwide survey last week by the Pew Research Center.

But other polling suggests that most Americans are willing to wait months, if necessary, to identify those responsible for the terrorist attack and strike back.

A number of foreign policy specialists, including former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, have said recently that Bush needs to take military action in the next week or two to sustain the high level of support he now enjoys both at home and overseas.

Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on CNN, "The president has done everything he can to help people along to understand this is not a war like any other war." But Reid also said that some of his constituents are beginning to wonder when they will see some action from the military.

"I've listened to a couple of talk radio shows recently out of Nevada radio stations," he said. "People are somewhat impatient."

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