President spent anxious 24 hours

Bush gave order, then awaited strikes

War On Terrorism

Military Response

October 09, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Like many Americans, President Bush had college football tuned in last weekend, on a TV set at the presidential retreat at Camp David. It was a tight game, in which Bush's home-state Texas Longhorns lost to the Oklahoma Sooners after a late fourth-quarter interception.

But Bush - a sports fan, especially when Texas is involved - could not pay close attention. His mind was preoccupied, aides said, with the order he had just given to U.S. forces to bomb Afghanistan.

White House officials provided yesterday the most detailed account yet of the weeks and days leading to Sunday, when the United States began counterattacking to avenge the deadliest attack in its history.

U.S. and British forces continued striking Afghanistan with cruise missiles and bombs yesterday, attacking al-Qaida's terrorist training camps and military facilities used by the Taliban regime.

Bush gave the final order to launch the military phase of the anti-terror campaign on Saturday morning at his Maryland mountain retreat. Then he spent more than 24 hours, knowing the operation was in full swing, but giving no hint to the public.

Aboard his Marine One helicopter Sunday morning, flying from Camp David to a memorial service in nearby Emmitsburg for firefighters who died in the line of duty, Bush huddled with advisers, making final edits on the address to the nation that he would give shortly after noon from the White House, announcing the military strikes.

In Emmitsburg, he spoke for only about five minutes, trying to comfort the families of fallen firefighters from around the nation and saying nothing about the Taliban or terrorism.

"Sometimes a person cannot know for sure what mark he or she has left on the world," Bush said. "That will never be said of the people we remember today or of their kind. They were strong and caring people, brave and upright. You could always count on them."

Then Bush returned by helicopter to Washington, arriving on the south lawn of the White House an hour ahead of schedule, ready to call other world leaders with news of the impending strike.

No pressure indicated

Since the Sept. 11 tragedy, aides said, the president had not indicated that he felt any pressure to rush into military strikes. He was satisfied, they said, to let the Pentagon carefully plan out an operation that would have the maximum chance for success.

Meanwhile, Bush kept telling his staff he wanted to come across as an "educator" to the American public, helping people understand how the campaign against terrorism would be like no war or battle they had seen, the aides added.

According to the outline of events provided yesterday by two of Bush's top advisers, the president and his "war cabinet" began firming up their strategy to go after Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida network and its Taliban hosts at a meeting at Camp David on the weekend after the attacks on New York City and Washington.

By Sept. 17, the strategy was set: It involved threatening the use of force against nations that harbor terrorists. And it included specific demands of the Taliban - among them, handing over bin Laden and his associates and shutting down terrorist training camps within Afghanistan's borders.

That strategy, which aides began for the first time yesterday to refer to as a "doctrine" of the Bush administration, was made public by Bush in a speech before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20.

"I've called the armed forces to alert, and there is a reason," Bush said that night. "The hour is coming when America will act, and you will make us proud."

Over the following days, military advisers refined their plans for an operation in Afghanistan that would begin with pinpointed attacks on terrorist training bases and Taliban command and communication centers. Officials refused yesterday to discuss future phases of the operation.

After looking at the plans last Tuesday, the president "decided it was time to go," recalled his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The tentative schedule was for military action to begin sometime over the weekend.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who has lowered his public profile in recent weeks, took part in every national security meeting with the president. While it remains unclear how much influence Cheney has - he was an architect of President George Bush's military campaign against Iraq a decade ago - the president's counselor Karen Hughes tried to stress yesterday that Bush has been the main decision-maker.

Cheney "is a member of the war counsel," she said. "He is offering judgment, advice and input to the president, as the president makes the decisions that only a president can make."

Once the decision had been made to attack, Bush called Hughes, a member of the tight circle of Texans who helped him win the presidency, and asked her to come to the Oval Office.

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