Bush calls attacks ‘acts of war,’ braces nation for long fight; grim digging proceeds at Pentagon, Trade Center
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush branded the attacks in New York and Washington ”acts of war” on Wednesday and braced a shaken nation for a long fight against the terrorists who orchestrated them. He sought $20 billion to help pay the cost of retaliation as investigators searched from Florida to Canada and along the Internet for suspects.
”This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil,” said Bush, as officials revealed that the White House, Air Force One and the president himself were targeted a day earlier. ”Good will prevail.”
The known toll rose amid the rubble at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, where rescue teams searched for survivors. A few were found in New York, but thousands of people were believed killed.
Bush asked Congress to find $20 billion in a tight federal budget to help rebuild and react to the attacks, vowing to spend ”whatever it takes.” Some House Democrats said the measure might give Bush too much leeway.
The president mulled a range of military options to punish the terrorists and any nation harboring them, while investigators said they had identified more than a dozen hijackers of Middle Eastern descent with ties Osama bin Laden and other terrorist networks.
America’s NATO allies bolstered Bush’s case for military action, declaring the terrorist attacks an assault on the alliance itself. Bush sought to build a global alliance with phone calls to leaders of France, Germany, Canada, Britain and Russia; he talked twice to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
”An attack on one is an attack on all,” said NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson. ”The parties will take such action as it deems necessary, including armed force.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told U.S. troops worldwide they will be called to arms ”in the days ahead.” Secretary of State Colin Powell said the president will oversee ”a long-term conflict.”
Bush said: ”This battle will take time and resolve.”
A U.S. assault was not imminent, according to senior government officials, because one of the largest criminal investigations in the nation’s history was still under way.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said teams of three to six terrorists hijacked four planes and, using pilots trained in the United States, put the aircraft on their deadly courses.
Two struck the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed short of its target in Pennsylvania.
Ashcroft said the White House and Bush’s plane were targeted by terrorists, offering the theory as others raised questions about the president’s actions Tuesday. Bush zigzagged around the country aboard Air Force One – from Florida to a Louisiana military base and then a base in Nebraska – before returning to the White House in early evening.
Officials did not detail the ”specific and credible evidence” they said they had of the intended targets.
Twenty-four hours after the attacks, the fire was finally out at the nation’s military headquarters in Arlington, Va., where more than 200 were believed to have died in the airplane and the Pentagon. In New York, the few stories that remained of the trade center’s south tower collapsed in yet another cloud of dust.
Bush toured the Pentagon, saying the devastation made him sad and angry. ”The nation mourns,” he said, ”but we must go on.” First lady Laura Bush visited victims in a nearby hospital.
”I pray a lot,” said Betty Smith of La Crosse, Wis., who hadn’t heard from her son stationed at the Pentagon.
”I talk to friends when it gets real bad, and sometimes I cry,” she said.
Fingers were pointed at U.S. intelligence efforts.
”It’s an indictment of our intelligence system that we had no forewarning,” said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.
Defending his agency, CIA Director George J. Tenet said that while U.S. intelligence didn’t stop the ”latest, terrible assaults,” it had stopped others.
The nation struggled to return to normal.
Government offices reopened and a bipartisan group of lawmakers joined Bush at the White House in a display of national unity. Limited air travel was restored to allow stranded tourists to return home, but regular flights were still banned.
After jacking up their prices Tuesday, several gas stations lowered their rates after federal officials threatened to take action.
Most schools and many businesses were closed in Washington. The nation’s stock markets were to remain closed until at least Friday.
”The America in which we woke today is far different from the one in which we woke yesterday,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Episodes of patriotism punctuated a day of high security and tension.
As National Guard troops patrolled the nation’s capital in camouflage-colored Humvees, a McDonald’s restaurant near the White House lined its counters with American flags poked through paper cups.
Switzerland lowered its flags to half-staff in a show of support as leaders across the globe raised their voices against terrorism. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, often at odds with the administration, donated blood for the victims.
Fear spread beyond America’s borders. Threats of terrorism emptied skyscrapers in Malaysia and the Culture Ministry in Romania.
On Capitol Hill, Congress passed a resolution declaring the country was ”entitled to respond under international law.”
Bush himself talked of war, though he did not seek a declaration from Congress. That would leave the question: Who is the United States at war with?
The attacks ”were more than acts of terror,” Bush said. ”They were acts of war.”
White House officials said Bush needs to know his targets before deciding what, if any, authorization to seek from Congress.
Bush said he would ask Congress for an undetermined amount of money to rescue victims and ”respond to this tragedy.”
In a sign of how suddenly the political winds had shifted, aides suggested the Social Security surplus – politically untouchable just a few days ago – could be tapped to get Bush the money he needs.
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