The United States is strengthening its military presence in the Persian Gulf region in preparation for a possible attack on suspected terrorist bases and those who might harbor them. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell also are stepping up consultations with world leaders in trying to forge a global coalition against international terrorism.
Washington, 20 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials say the Defense Department has ordered more than 100 combat aircraft to the Persian Gulf region for a possible military action against terrorists and their accomplices.
The impending movement of the warplanes is seen as a key sign of preparation to retaliate for the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Officials who asked not to be identified said yesterday that the planes, including fighter jets and bombers, will move to the region shortly. The deployment has been dubbed Operation Infinite Justice.
The White House declined comment about the deployment order. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz would only say: "There are movements and we will see more movements."
The United States already has a formidable military presence in the region, including bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Turkey, as well as aircraft carriers and supporting naval vessels at sea. Aircraft carriers with planes on their giant decks serve as floating military bases to launch attacks.
Separate from the order to send warplanes to the Gulf, the aircraft carrier "USS Theodore Roosevelt" and the ships and submarines in its battle group left their home port at Norfolk, Virginia, yesterday for a scheduled six-month deployment to the Mediterranean.
The U.S. Navy already has one carrier battle group in the Gulf region and a second in the Arabian Sea to the south.
In trying to forge an international coalition, President George W. Bush met yesterday with President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Bush said:
"The message to every country is, there will be a campaign against terrorist activity, worldwide campaign. And there is an outpouring of support for such a campaign. Freedom-loving people understand that terrorism knows no borders, that terrorists will strike in order to bring fear, to try to change the behavior of countries that love liberty. And we will not let them do that."
Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov conferred with Secretary of State Colin Powell and said afterward that no means can be ruled out -- including military action. The two, however, said they did not discuss specific military action. Powell said of the meeting:
"We had a good discussion of potential areas of cooperation as we go after this worldwide threat to civilization in a comprehensive campaign where all elements of national and international power must be used -- law enforcement, military activity, legal actions, financial actions, anything that can be used -- to get at these terrorist organizations; in the first instance, Al-Qaeda and Mr. Osama bin Laden, but ultimately, terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head."
Saudi-born bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the man who is believed to be in charge of the shadowy Al-Qaeda organization, is reportedly in Afghanistan under the protection of its Taliban rulers. The U.S. has asked the Taliban to hand over bin Laden and warned that failure to do so might trigger retaliation.
Ivanov, who also met Bush late yesterday, earlier told reporters:
"I have said that in combating international terrorism, no means can be excluded, including the use of force.... At the same time, so far we have not discussed with the United States any specific, any concrete actions."
In another development, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sought to reassure his country that the war against terrorism does not target Islam. While Musharraf has pledged to help the U.S., his nation has also been the site of anti-American rallies in recent days as Bush stepped up his rhetorical attack against bin Laden.
Bush said he will deliver an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the nation tonight. His aides said Bush will not announce any military action but rather discuss the overall problem of terrorism.
Also yesterday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the networks that carried out the attacks on the U.S clearly had support and protection from unnamed foreign governments.
The toll in New York now stands at 5,422 missing and 218 dead. The casualty count of dead or missing on the Pentagon attack in Washington is 189.