By Robert Burns
WASHINGTON – The United States will launch sustained military strikes against those behind the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., as well as their support systems, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.
In the most explicit description yet of the Bush administration’s intentions, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the military retaliation would continue until the roots of terrorism are destroyed.
“One has to say it’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism,” he told a news conference in a Pentagon briefing room that still smelled of smoke and soot.
Other defense officials said the administration was considering options that included the use of air, sea and land forces over a lengthy period. They said it was clear the administration would go well beyond the limited strikes of recent years against Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.
“This is not going to be a short program,” said Navy Secretary Gordon England.
The military’s fleet of sophisticated AWACS radar planes has been ordered to stop flying missions over the nation’s airspace, Rumsfeld said Thursday night on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
The decision coincided with the resumption of commercial airline flights Thursday morning.
Rumsfeld also noted that combat planes continue to fly over the New York-Washington corridor. He said he has not decided when those flights should stop. “And we do have interceptors on 15-minute alert across the country on some 26 bases,” Rumsfeld told CNN.
Air National Guard reserve pilots have been used to supplement American forces in military emergencies on many occasions.
In comments at the White House, Bush was less explicit than Wolfowitz about the military’s role but emphatic that action would be taken in response to attacks that he has called acts of war.
“Now that war has been declared, we will lead the world to victory,” Bush said.
Wolfowitz made clear the administration was not thinking of a limited response.
“One thing that is clear is you don’t do it with just a single military strike, no matter how dramatic,” he said.
A senior White House official said Bush is planning a sweeping campaign against terrorist groups that could last years. The official seemed to be bracing the public for the likelihood that, although Bush may not act quickly, he will act forcefully with a series of strikes.
The Navy has two aircraft carrier battle groups, each with 75 warplanes aboard, in the vicinity of the Arabian Sea, said Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations. That is twice the usual number for that part of the world. The USS Enterprise, which was due to return home after being relieved earlier this month by the Bremerton-based USS Carl Vinson, has been ordered to remain in the area indefinitely.
Those battle groups normally include cruisers and submarines, which could be used to launch long-range cruise missile strikes, perhaps as part of a prelude to attacks by manned aircraft such as B-2 stealth bombers or B-1 Lancers.
There were no indications Thursday of a buildup of American forces in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Neither Wolfowitz nor other defense officials hinted at when the United States might begin military strikes. On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers urged the administration to gather more information about the perpetrators of Tuesday’s attacks and their supporters.
“This has got to be a very sophisticated inquiry,” said Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lugar was asked whether he believed the United States should launch a massive military response.
“There’s no way of being able to decide that prior to knowing how extensive the harboring or aiding and abetting and organizing is,” he said. “That is why I would counsel that we’d better know that before we begin suggesting particular tactics of retaliation.”
On Wednesday, Rumsfeld said in a message to U.S. troops worldwide that some among them would be called to join the battle against “powerful and terrible enemies.”
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