WASHINGTON (AP) The Pentagon ordered dozens of advanced aircraft to the Persian Gulf region yesterday as the hour of military retaliation for deadly terrorist attacks drew closer. President Bush announced he would address Congress and the nation tonight.
“I owe it to the country to give an explanation,” the president said in the Oval Office.
Bush spoke after meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the economy, weak before the attacks and buffeted by thousands of layoffs in the airline industry and elsewhere in the eight days since. “No question it”s tough times,” he said. “This is a shock to the economy and we”re going to respond.”
The president will ask Congress to give the nation”s airlines $5 billion in immediate aid, plus help with their insurance liability, an administration official said, but not $12.5 billion in loans the industry says it needs to avert bankruptcies at least for now.
Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan was quoted as telling lawmakers earlier that they should focus on restoring economic confidence and not rush into passing legislation of uncertain impact.
The president”s announcement that he would go before a joint session of Congress marked a quickening in the pace of events as the administration worked on military, diplomatic and economic responses to the attacks that killed thousands.
A Pentagon official outlined the first steps of “Operation Infinite Justice,” the decision to send F-15s, F-16s and possibly B-1 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The aircraft will follow the deployment of air traffic control teams. In addition, an aircraft carrier left Virginia en route to joining two other carriers in the region.
“There are movements and we will see more movements,” said the second-in-command at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz.
The president devoted a portion of his day to diplomacy, beckoning all countries around the globe to contribute, some openly, some secretly to “the long campaign” against terrorism.”
Looking ahead to his speech, Bush said, “I look forward to the opportunity to explain to the American people who would do this to our great country. And why.”
Officials said Bush will not ask Congress to declare war in his speech, set for 9 p.m. EDT tonight. They also cautioned against expecting the president to specify when military retaliation will occur. “This is not a speech to announce military action,” said Condoleezza Rice, Bush”s national security adviser.
The speech will come nine days after the worst terrorist attacks in the nation”s history. Hijackers seized four jetliners and flew two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania, apparently after passengers struggled with hijackers. The number of dead is expected to exceed 5,400.
Bush issued his call for an international effort to “help us round up these people,” responsible as the leader of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan challenged assertions that Osama bin Laden masterminded the attacks.