Prepared to attack Taliban, U.S. says
No longer any doubt that bin Laden was behind the assaults, Cheney declares
By JOHN IBBITSON, The Globe and Mail
Monday, September 17, 2001
WASHINGTON -- The White House declared yesterday that the United States government is prepared to strike militarily against Afghanistan's Taliban regime if it does not fully co-operate in handing over Osama bin Laden, saying there was "no doubt" the Islamic militant was behind Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
And in an unsettling revelation, U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush said that, had the jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania reached Washington, it would have been shot down by presidential decree.
Mr. Bush returned to the White House yesterday after a weekend at Camp David.
He devoted the weekend to meetings, including one with Mr. Cheney, and phone calls to foreign leaders.
"I gave our military the orders necessary to protect Americans and, of course, it's difficult," he said during a news conference on the White House lawn.
"When I was informed an unidentified aircraft was headed to the heart of the capital, I was concerned.
"I wasn't concerned about my decision. I was more concerned about the lives of innocent Americans. Never did I dream we would be under attack this way."
Mr. Cheney, making his first public appearance since Tuesday's tragedy, bolstered the administration's tough stand toward Mr. bin Laden and the Afghan regime that harbours him.
The Taliban and "others like them around the world have to understand that if you provide sanctuary to terrorists, you face the full wrath of the United States of America," the Vice-President said on NBC's Meet the Press.
Mr. Cheney said there was no longer any doubt that Mr. bin Laden was behind the assaults.
"I have no doubt that he and his organization played a significant role in this," he said. But rooting out Mr. bin Laden will "require a major effort and obviously quite possibly the use of military force."
The administration will ask Congress this week for new powers to monitor and detain foreigners on U.S. soil suspected of plotting against the United States, and to track money-laundering organizations that finance terrorism.
"It's easier to get a wiretap against a drug dealer or someone who's involved in illegal gambling than it is against terrorists," U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft said.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the government is also reviewing a law that prohibits the government from assassinating foreign leaders.
As part of the preparations for expected assaults on Mr. bin Laden's organization and the Taliban regime, Mr. Bush said yesterday that he had spoken Saturday with Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf, who "has been very co-operative."
"He has agreed with our requests to aid our nation to hunt down, to find, to smoke out of their holes the terrorist organization that is the prime suspect" in the attacks.
Mr. Bush went out of his way to condition Americans to expect that the struggle against terrorist organizations will likely last for years, not weeks or months.
"This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while, and the American people must be patient," he said. "This will be a long campaign, a determined campaign, a campaign that will use the resources of the United States to win. They have aroused a mighty giant."
Mr. Powell tacitly confirmed in a television interview that the Pakistani government has asked that Israel and India not be included in any coalition against terrorism involving Pakistan.
"We understand the sensitivities that would be involved in anything that might involve India or Israel and we'll take those sensitivities into account," he told CNN.
But "at the end of the day, we'll do what we think is appropriate and necessary."
A high-level U.S. delegation is expected to arrive in Pakistan within a matter of days.
Maleeha Lodhi, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said her government has asked the United Nations sanctions committee to lift restrictions on contact with the Afghan government to allow a Pakistani delegation to visit the Taliban today.
"We will be urging upon the Taliban leadership to accede to the demand of the international community to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime that has been committed," she said in a television interview.
The delegation's goal will be to convince the Kabul government "to hand over the person that they are harbouring, Osama bin Laden, so that he is brought to justice before more extreme ways are involved to deal with the situation."
Meanwhile yesterday, Mr. Cheney offered a compelling glimpse into the frantic actions and decisions of leading figures of the Bush administration in the first hours after the initial attack on the World Trade Center.
He said that as United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth hijacked airplane, approached Washington from Ohio, the President gave the order that any unauthorized aircraft reaching Washington should be shot down.
"The President made the decision . . . that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out," he said.
"People say that's a horrendous decision to make.
"Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians captured by terrorists, and are you going to, in fact, shoot it down, obviously and kill all those Americans on board?" Mr. Cheney said.
But the President had no choice, he said, if he were to protect people and buildings who were targets of the hijacked plane.
The administration believes that the aircraft that slammed into the Pentagon, killing 188 people, was intended for the White House. The pilot may have been unable to locate the building because it was obscured from view, and so he directed the plane at the much larger Pentagon.
Mr. Cheney also said the government believes the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania was probably planning to hit the Capitol building.
Mr. Cheney also warned that the terrorist attacks might tip the U.S. economy into a recession.
Asked whether the United States was grappling with war and recession, he said: "Quite possibly. We clearly have a war against terrorism and we don't know yet what the third [economic] quarter is going to be like."
He was optimistic, though, that any recession would be short-lived.