Bush administration braces Congress for war as 2,000 more reservists called to duty
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon ordered 2,000 more reservists to duty Tuesday as President Bush weighed putting more armed guards on airliners and strengthening cockpit doors against potential hijackers. In a diplomatic victory for the United States, Saudi Arabia cut ties to the terrorist-harboring Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Americans are in for a long, brutal struggle for justice in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York. ”It will be difficult,” he said. ”It will be dangerous.”
Underscoring the threat, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group warned of retaliation if Washington attacks.
”Wherever there are Americans and Jews, they will be targeted,” said a statement issued by Naseer Ahmed Mujahed, chief military commander for the al-Qaida network fingered by Bush for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell went to Capitol Hill to give Congress top-secret briefings on Bush’s brewing war plans.
Hoping to calm a jittery traveling public, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta presented Bush with a series of recommendations to tighten airline security. He wants to make it tougher to open cockpit doors, dramatically increase the presence of air marshals on flights and give the federal government a greater role in overseeing private security firms at airports, White House officials said.
Bush was considering several security options that would allow for the reopening of Reagan National Airport across the Potomac from the nation’s capital, the sole remaining airport closed due to the attacks. A decision on opening the airport was not imminent.
Bush planned to announce the package Thursday in Chicago. In a show of wartime bipartisanship, the president invited Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to join him.
The president also considered a number of ways to revive the economy and help laid-off workers. One option under discussion: Extend unemployment benefits to workers caught in the economic aftermath of the strikes.
He said America will not flinch in the face of danger.
”No threat – no threat – will prevent freedom-loving people from defending freedom,” Bush said, wagging his finger for emphasis during a Rose Garden ceremony with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The White House sharply cut back a scheduled presidential trip to Asia in October to keep Bush close to home.
The pace of events quickened as Washington readied for war, though government officials refused to say how soon the first strike might come.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Afghanistan’s Taliban government, isolating the regime from virtually the entire world. Pakistan has tacit U.S. approval to maintain relations.
Bush’s gathering international coalition received a boost when Russian President Vladimir Putin, meeting with German leaders, offered fresh words of support. ”We must give no quarter to terrorists,” he said.
At the White House, Koizumi pledged $40 million in aid to help maintain Pakistan’s stability. Two Japanese newspapers said the country will send warships to the Indian Ocean as early as this week to carry out intelligence and surveillance.
The U.S. economy remained a nagging concern, with the stock market fluctuating and new data showing consumer confidence has plunged in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told lawmakers privately that if they pass an economic stimulus package of tax cuts and other measures, a proper total could be as much as $100 billion, senators said. Bush is weighing his own package.
As investigators tried to track terrorists to bin Laden, Bush backed Attorney General John Ashcroft’s push to impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists, increase punishments of terrorists and expand the FBI’s wiretapping powers.
”We’ve got to know what’s on their minds,” Bush told weary FBI agents.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, soon to be Bush’s anti-terrorism chief, met with the president and White House officials to discuss how to run the new Cabinet-level post.
In a footnote to the Sep. 11 attack, administration officials said they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening Air Force One. They’ve been unsuccessful in trying to track down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain they were told of a telephone threat Sept. 11 and kept Bush away from Washington for hours because of it.
For the first time, Bush suggested that the people of Afghanistan should rise up against the Taliban. He said the best way to fight terrorism ”is to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place or tired having Osama bin Laden.”
Powell said the Taliban could be spared – and perhaps even receive Western aid – if they hand over bin Laden and rip up the al-Qaida terrorism network.
”If they did that we wouldn’t be worrying about whether they are the regime in power or not,” Powell said in an Associated Press interview.
The U.S. military buildup continued overseas as the Pentagon called to active duty an additional 1,940 members of the Reserves and National Guard from 16 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Pentagon had already called up 10,000 reservists and plans to summon as many as 35,500 in all to help with recovery efforts in New York and the Pentagon and to bolster air defenses.
”We’re cocked and ready to go,” said Air Force Capt. Steven Rolenc, spokesman for the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
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