Governors mobilize troops to secure airports; Pentagon talks about rules of engagement in U.S. skies
WASHINGTON (AP) – Governors pledged Thursday to mobilize National Guard troops against terrorism at airports, where jobs are drying up because of travelers’ jitters. The Pentagon said it has authority to attack hijacked airliners as a last resort.
Talking about military pilots’ new rules of engagement in the war against terrorism, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Henry H. Shelton said, ”The last thing in the world that one of them wants to do is engage a commercial aircraft.”
”Don’t get the impression that anyone who’s flying around out there has a loose trigger finger,” he said.
Sixteen days after attacks that killed thousands, the Bush administration moved on several fronts to calm a still-fearful nation, bolster the U.S. economy, identify the killers and forge a wartime coalition of disparate nations.
”Others will tire and weary; I understand that. But not our nation,” Bush told hundreds of flag-waving airline workers in Chicago, their industry and jobs in danger because of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Amid a swirl of diplomatic activity, Bush met with European Union leaders, who cautioned him to retaliate with precision and focus. The president, by contrast, has talked about a broad war.
Despite words of caution from Europe, there was fresh evidence that Bush is fashioning a unique anti-terrorism coalition of disparate nations. A U.S. official disclosed that Sudan, long accused of harboring terrorists, has quietly rounded up as many as 30 foreign extremists since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was busy, too. He met with the foreign ministers of Belgium and Turkey as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Adding his voice to the mix, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said he had been invited by the ruling militia in Afghanistan to take a ”peace delegation” to the region. The White House discouraged Jackson, and the Taliban militia said they had not asked him to come.
Powell said point-blank: ”We have nothing to negotiate.”
In Afghanistan, where prime suspect Osama bin Laden is believed to be, Taliban leaders warned Afghans not to expect the United States to overthrow their hard-line rule.
”Those Afghans who want to seize power with the help of America are just like those fools who tried to stay in power with the help of the Russian army,” said Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The statement, distributed by the Afghan Islamic Press, referred to the Soviets’ unsuccessful military efforts in the 1980s.
There were protests against the United States in Japan and Malaysia while extremist Islamic groups in Indonesia threatened to attack U.S. workers in the country.
In the United States, more arrests were made of Middle Eastern men who obtained bogus licenses to haul hazardous materials. The FBI said those men were not connected to the hijackers, but there were concerns nonetheless of follow-up terrorist attacks.
Attorney General John Ashcroft released photographs of the 19 hijacking suspects and asked Americans to help identify those who are still in doubt.
”A national neighborhood watch,” he called it.
In neighborhoods all over America, the economic impact of the attacks continued to grow.
Jobless claims rose to a nine-year high, in part reflecting the ripple effect of strikes against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington.
David Nowacki, an American Air Lines worker on hand for Bush’s speech, said he and his friends are worried about their jobs.
”Things are on edge,” Nowacki said. ”No one is calling in sick.”
The Bush administration has balked at Democratic calls for relief to airline workers, promising instead a broader package to revive the economy – one that likely will include tax cuts.
While his advisers met in Washington to weigh the stimulus plan, Bush tried to rally Americans into patriotic spending.
”Get about the business of America,” he said.
Though business is down across the board, Bush focused on an airline industry jarred by a dramatic decline in passengers since the attacks.
”Get on the airlines,” Bush implored. ”We will not surrender our freedom to travel.”
He sought to coax Americans into planes with a $500 million plan to secure cockpit doors and a wide range of other proposals, including having the federal government oversee security at airports. Democrats and union leaders joined him for the O’Hare International Airport event.
The crowd sang ”God Bless America” as Bush shook hands.
Several mayors said the package wasn’t tough enough. Some governors moved quickly to heed Bush’s call to mobilize National Guard troops at airports.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former member of the Navy special forces team, said he didn’t think twice. Colleagues in Michigan, California and several others states followed suit. Rhode Island’s governor said the Guard wasn’t needed – not yet, anyway.
”When you’re in a time of war, you don’t question the commander in chief,” said Ventura.
Bush dispatched his Cabinet to travel on various commercial flights to demonstrate the safety of the skies. Even his father, former President George H.W. Bush, pitched in.
”I have every confidence in the airlines,” the elder Bush said before boarding a flight in Boston with several Secret Service agents.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Americans may see ”some dramatic military engagements,” but warned in a New York Times article that victory won’t be easy nor clear and the war will be unconventional.
”Forget about ‘exit strategies,”’ he wrote. ”We’re looking at a sustained engagement that carries no deadlines.”
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It’s time to secure outdoor loose furniture, decorations and garbage cans because high winds are aimed at Lake Tahoe for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.