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AMERICA ATTACKED | THE REACTION ABROAD

Bush Warns of Long War

Hijackers Evaded FBI Hunt, Linked to Cole

Response: President meets with key advisors to plan a 'sweeping, sustained and effective' campaign. He calls Osama bin Laden 'a prime suspect.'

September 16, 2001|JAMES GERSTENZANG and GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SMITHSBURG, Md. — President Bush advised members of the U.S. military to "get ready" for battle against an enemy he identified with new specificity Saturday, calling Osama bin Laden "a prime suspect" behind Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"We're at war," Bush declared as he convened a meeting at Camp David with senior advisors to plot what he said would be a "sweeping, sustained and effective" campaign to eradicate terrorism.

At Bush's side, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters that Pakistan had indicated readiness to comply with every U.S. request for assistance, a potential diplomatic breakthrough because of Pakistan's shared border with Afghanistan, which is believed to harbor Bin Laden and many of his followers.

In an effort to nail down that diplomatic commitment, Bush spoke Saturday by telephone with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. White House officials described it as a "good conversation" and "a positive sign" that the alliance is coming together.

The State Department earlier last week presented a list of demands to Pakistan, including access to intelligence data, help in identifying Bin Laden's network and agents, and clearance to use Pakistan's airspace.

Complying with an earlier request, Pakistan already has begun closing its border with Afghanistan.

In Washington, Pakistani Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said Saturday that her country had "absolutely accepted" the long list of specific requests by the Bush administration.

"We conveyed to the U.S. administration that Pakistan will firmly support whatever the U.S. has asked or proposed to us. We have said we will cooperate accordingly."

But in Pakistan, the message was more ambiguous, with government officials saying they are merely "in the process of discussions" with the United States and have committed only to an agreement in principle.

The conflicting characterizations reflect the competing pressures on countries being recruited into the U.S. alliance. In Pakistan, there is deep public skepticism about taking sides with a distant superpower in an endeavor with potentially bloody repercussions for the region.

Indeed, Afghanistan's Taliban regime Saturday threatened to wage war on neighboring countries that grant the United States use of airspace or military bases.

At Camp David, the Maryland presidential retreat about 60 miles northwest of Washington, Bush met for 2 1/2 hours with his National Security Council. He also met with smaller groups of advisors during the afternoon and later dined with his senior national security team.

A day after touring the rubble in Manhattan--where 4,972 people are still missing amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers--Bush spoke in the most forceful language he has used since Tuesday's attacks, which began when terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jetliners.

Two of the planes slammed into the twin towers in New York, toppling both; a third plane hit the Pentagon and the fourth--apparently bound for Washington, D.C.--crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Each day since the suicide missions, Bush has honed his public message, ramping up his language and increasingly making clear his determination to not just punish those who helped perpetrate the attacks but to wage a war against terrorism.

So it was on Saturday, as he discussed his administration's evolving plans in his weekly radio address and later in a give-and-take session with reporters. He cautioned the American people against expecting immediate action and quick success, to be prepared to show patience, and to sacrifice, "for the conflict will not be short."

"Victory against terrorism will not take place in a single battle," Bush said, "but in a series of decisive actions against terrorist organizations and those who harbor and support them."

Bush moved closer to placing direct blame for the attacks on Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Responding to a reporter's query, Bush said, "There is no question he is what we would call a prime suspect. And if he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken." Others in the administration previously had named Bin Laden, but Bush had not publicly done so.

Leaving behind the teary mien of earlier last week, when he had spoken of his prayers and his concern for the families of the victims, Bush referred to those who carried out the hijacks as "barbarians" and repeatedly vowed to track down those who helped organize the attacks.

"They will try to hide, they will try to avoid the United States and our allies--but we're not going to let 'em," he said. "They run to the hills; they find holes to get in. And we will do whatever it takes to smoke 'em out and get 'em running. And we'll get 'em."

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