11 September 2001>News Stories>Buildings Burn and Fall as Onlookers Search for Elusive Safety

Bush Is Deploying Jet Bombers Toward Afghanistan
David E. Sanger . NYTimes . 19 September

Washington, Sept. 19

President Bush met in the Oval Office on Wednesday with President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia.

President Bush ordered heavy bombers and other aircraft to within easy striking distance of Afghanistan today and insisted that its ruling Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden and other suspected leaders of a terrorist organization believed to be behind last week's attacks in New York and Washington.

The White House also announced that Mr. Bush would address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday evening to lay out his aims for what he has called a global war on terrorism and to detail the sacrifices that might be asked of the American public.

The military deployments ordered today involved about two dozen bombers, tankers and support aircraft. In addition today, the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its accompanying battle group left Virginia and headed eastward to an undisclosed location.

With the carrier's air wing of about 70 attack aircraft, the United States was moving nearly 100 aircraft to a region where there is already a robust American military presence.

Today's deployments form the first wave of a Pentagon campaign that the president has described as a broad and sustained war on those behind the last week's terror strikes.

Mr. Bush told world leaders in meetings and telephone calls today that the coalition he hopes to build bore little resemblance to the one assembled for the Persian Gulf war in 1991 or any other American war. He has repeatedly said the United States also reserves the right to act alone in self-defense.

To prepare the political ground for the coming conflict, in whatever form it might take, Mr. Bush will use his speech in the well of the House of Representatives on Thursday to "make the case of why we are entering this long struggle," his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said today. He will argue, she said, that unless the United States takes the battle to the countries that terrorists use as their base of operations, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week are certain to be the first of many on American soil.

Ms. Rice went to some lengths to discourage comparisons to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "date which will live in infamy" speech that was delivered from the same lectern almost 60 years ago.

"This is not Pearl Harbor," Ms. Rice said, noting that after the 1941 attack the American military had a clear target Tokyo and a way to measure victory. Repeating Mr. Bush's statements that in the coming battle "there are no beaches to storm and islands to take," she said this would be "a war of will and the mind," in which intelligence would be the most important asset. "So we are asking a lot of countries for information," she said, rather than for troops or other military assets.

Without a clear target, Ms. Rice did not appear to resolve the question of what would constitute victory for the Bush administration in a struggle it describes as a war.

Mr. Bush's speech will undoubtedly touch on the economic costs of the terrorist attacks at a time of economic slowdown, and White House officials said again today that they were looking at proposals for economic stimulus, beyond just a bailout for airlines. The president, asked at a meeting with Congressional leaders about his promise last month to use the Social Security surplus only in time of recession, war or other emergency, said current conditions had more than met his test.

"Not only has someone conducted an act of war on us, our economy has slowed way down, and this is an emergency," Mr. Bush said. "We've had all three, it seems like to me."

It is convenient for the administration to characterize the coalition it is building as a flexible one, as Ms. Rice did today. That is the only way to embrace the handful of countries likely to commit troops and equipment, those like Pakistan that are now committed to sharing intelligence and allowing flights over their territory and others, including Russia and China, that seem unlikely to offer more than quiet encouragement and perhaps some covert aid.

Mr. Bush acknowledged as much today as he sat in the Oval Office with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the new president of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

"We fully understand that some nations will be comfortable supporting overt activities," he said. "Some nations will be comfortable supporting covert activities; some nations will only be comfortable in providing information; others will be helpful and only feel comfortable helping on financial matters. I understand that."

Mrs. Megawati is a case study in the political anguish some nations endure by endorsing Mr. Bush's effort. While she is the daughter of Indonesia's founding leader, Sukarno, her own hold on power is tenuous as she tries to keep Islamic radicals at bay and contain a host of separatist movements that threaten to split the Indonesian archipelago apart. Today, she expressed sympathy with Mr. Bush's cause but stopped well short of committing her country to aiding the American effort, just as President Jacques Chirac of France made no commitment of forces when he saw Mr. Bush on Tuesday.

Mr. Bush also met with Igor S. Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, whose country's long effort to tame Afghanistan in the 1980's ended in failure. A senior administration official said that in meetings with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Mr. Ivanov made it clear that "they don't want to be engaged on two fronts at the same time," a reference to the continuing war in Chechnya. "Politically they want to use this to get closer to us," the official said.

In background conversations with reporters, White House officials have begun talking about the unspoken deal with Pakistan: a relatively swift lifting of economic sanctions and a resumption of the country's desperately needed loans from the International Monetary Fund. They made no mention of the fact that Pakistan continues to develop nuclear weapons which prompted the sanctions or that it has never satisfied the economic reform demands of the I.M.F.

Underscoring the secrecy and urgency surrounding any possible military retaliation, the Pentagon declined to identify the aircraft they deployed today, their home bases or their destinations.

Senior defense officials said the deployments today were only the beginning of an American military buildup in the region. The exact size and scope of that buildup is still unfolding.

"There are movements, and you will see more movements," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said at the Pentagon after meeting with Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer.

"And I hope everyone understands I'm sure the American people understand why we do not want to reveal the details of those movements to people who may be trying to figure out what we're about to do next," he said.

The United States Central Command, the military headquarters that oversees a region from the Horn of Africa to Pakistan, has maintained a force of roughly 20,000 troops, about 175 aircraft and 14 ships, anchored by an aircraft carrier.

When the attacks occurred, the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its fleet of support ships were just replacing the carrier Enterprise, which has now been ordered to remain in the region, doubling the naval firepower normally there.

A third carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt, left Norfolk, Va., today with its own armada of nearly a dozen combat and support ships, including attack submarines and guided-missile cruisers and destroyers. While its departure was previously scheduled, nothing about its deployment was now routine, officials said. It had been headed to the Mediterranean Sea, but now officials declined to discuss its destination.

On Thursday, a Bataan Amphibious Ready Group will leave from a port near Camp Lejeune, N.C., enroute to the Mediterranean. The group is carrying the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a force of 2,100 marines equipped with helicopters, amphibious assault vehicles and artillery for speedy, small-scale attacks.

One military official said the aerial deployment was limited for now to bombers and the aerial refueling tankers needed to support them over long distances.

In previous campaigns, including attacks on Iraq, the United States has based a number of B-52 bombers at an airfield on Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean. Each B-52 is now equipped with cruise missiles able to travel more than 600 miles. The stealthy B-2 bomber, used in Kosovo, could reach Afghanistan from bases in Missouri with in-flight refueling, and then return to American soil.