Pentagon sends warplanes to Gulf area

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Pentagon Sends Warplanes to Gulf Area

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001; 3:34 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON The Pentagon ordered combat aircraft to bases in the Persian Gulf region on Wednesday as President Bush urged world leaders to aid the United States openly or even secretly in a campaign against terrorism.

The impending movement of the planes was the first concrete sign of preparations to retaliate for last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The combat aircraft will be preceded by teams of Air Force air controllers who will coordinate the refueling of the fighters and bombers as they deploy from the United States to the Gulf region, a senior defense official said.

The deployment has been dubbed "Operation Infinite Justice," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Likely to be included in the force of combat aircraft are F-16s, F-15s and possibly B-1 bombers, the official said.

It came eight days after hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon, reinforcing an effort by Bush to enlist world leaders in the battle against terrorism.

"Help us round up these people," Bush said. At his side in the Oval Office was Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the world's most-populous Muslim nation. Separately, he called the leaders of South Africa and South Korea.

Bush mounted his diplomatic campaign while Pentagon officials worked on plans for military retaliation and his administration and Congress worked on legislation to help the economy, including the battered airlines industry. The stock market fell sharply for the second time in three days, as new job cuts sent shudders through the airlines and aircraft industry.

Bush said that some nations may "take a more active role than others" in battling terrorism. At the same time, he said, "Some nations will be comfortable supporting covert activities, some nations will only be comfortable with providing information. Others will be helpful and will only be comfortable supporting financial matters. I understand that."

As he has repeatedly in recent days, the president urged the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan to turn over Osama bin Laden, the suspected chief culprit behind last week's attacks. The administration prevailed on Pakistan last week to pressure the Taliban to comply.

In a nationally televised speech during the day, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sought to reassure his country the war against terrorism does not target Islam. While Musharraf has pledged to help the United States, his nation has also been the site of anti-American rallies in recent days as Bush steps up his rhetorical attack against bin Laden.

Bush was pleased by Musharraf's speech and viewed it as "an indication of the strong relationship" between the United States and Pakistan in battling terrorism, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Continuing to reach out to world leaders, Bush also called South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and South African President Thabo Mbeki, Fleischer said.

Later, he was to meet with congressional leaders. "He wants to work with Congress" on both an economic stimulus and airline assistance package, Fleischer said. Asked about whether military strikes might come soon, given the high degree of public support for military retaliation, Fleischer said, "This has to be done right. It can't be done early. It can't be done late." He said the nation is prepared to use financial, diplomatic and political weapons against terrorists.

In Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, the Taliban leader said he was ready for talks with Washington, according to the Afghan Islamic Press, a Pakistan-based news agency with close ties to the ruling regime. "Afghanistan does not have resources, nor is Osama that powerful, nor does he have contacts with the outside world to carry out or plan such attacks," Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying. "We appeal to the American government for tolerance and ask it to conduct an investigation and track down the real culprits."

Fleischer, responding, said that Bush's "message to the Taliban is very simple. It's time for action, not negotiations." The death toll in the attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon are expected to top 5,000.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, leading the U.S. investigation, used the wounded Pentagon as a backdrop for a declaration that terrorists had benefitted from the help of some foreign governments. "It is pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kind of events are harbored, supported, sustained and protected by a variety of foreign governments," he said.

"It is time for those governments to understand with crystal clarity that the United States of America will not tolerate that kind of support for networks that would inflict this kind of damage on the American people."

In addition to his meeting with the Indonesian leader, Bush also was scheduled to see the foreign ministers of Russia and Germany during the day. At the same time, the administration is moving to get the money to pursue its effort. Bush Tuesday signed a $40 billion package, most of which will go to recovery efforts and to battle terrorism.

These efforts came as the exhausting search for victims and the cleanup continued at New York's World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa., and as federal authorities ratcheted up their hunt for collaborators to the terrorists who killed themselves and thousands others in the attacks. Authorities expect the total death count to exceed 5,400.

As the U.S. military moved toward a war footing, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday the nation's response to the attacks must reach beyond finding bin Laden, the Saudi exile in Afghanistan who is considered the prime suspect. "This is not a problem of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden," Rumsfeld said on CNN. "It is a problem of a number of networks of terrorists that have been active across the globe." He said there is evidence bin Laden and his associates are operating in 50 to 60 countries, including the United States.

As Rumsfeld spoke, the 15,000-strong USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group prepared to leave Norfolk, Va., for a long-scheduled deployment in the Mediterranean that has become more than routine in light of the terrorist attacks.

As the administration shored up support and drew battle lines, the massive investigation continued to find evidence of other plots against America. Three Detroit men were arrested Tuesday on charges of identity fraud and misuse of visas. Court records said the FBI seized documents suggesting the men worked in food preparation for airlines at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and collected information about an American military base in Turkey, a U.S. "foreign minister," an airport in Jordan and diagrams of aircraft locations and runways.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), September 19, 2001


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