WASHINGTON (AP) The United States will launch sustained military strikes against those behind the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington as well as their support systems, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.
In the most explicit description yet of the Bush administration”s intentions, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the military retaliation would continue until the roots of terrorism are destroyed.
“One has to say it”s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism,” he told a news conference in a Pentagon briefing room that still smelled of smoke and soot.
Other defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration was considering options that included the use of air, sea and land forces over a lengthy period. They said it was clear the administration would go well beyond the limited strikes of recent years against Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.
“This is not going to be a short program,” said Navy Secretary Gordon England.
In comments at the White House, President Bush was less explicit about the military”s role but emphatic that action would be taken in response to attacks that he has called acts of war.
“Now that war has been declared, we will lead the world to victory,” Bush said.
Wolfowitz made clear the administration is not thinking of a limited response.
“One thing that is clear is you don”t do it with just a single military strike, no matter how dramatic,” he said.
The Navy has two aircraft carrier battle groups each with 75 warplanes aboard in the vicinity of the Arabian Sea, said Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations. That is twice the usual number for that part of the world. The USS Enterprise, which was due to return home after being relieved earlier this month by the USS Carl Vinson, has been ordered to remain in the area indefinitely.
Those battle groups normally include cruisers and submarines, which could be used to launch long-range cruise missile strikes, perhaps as part of a prelude to attacks by manned aircraft such as B-2 stealth bombers or B-1 Lancers.
There were no indications yesterday of a buildup of American forces in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Neither Wolfowitz nor other defense officials hinted at when the United States might begin military strikes. On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers urged the administration to gather more information about the perpetrators of Tuesday”s attacks and their supporters.
“This has got to be a very sophisticated inquiry,” said Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lugar was asked whether he believed the United States should launch a massive military response.
“There”s no way of being able to decide that prior to knowing how extensive the harboring or aiding and abetting and organizing is,” he said. “That is why I would counsel that we”d better know that before we begin suggesting particular tactics of retaliation.”
Wolfowitz would not discuss specific military options.
“We”re going to keep after these people and the people who support them until this stops,” he said.
Wolfowitz said part of the emergency funds the president is seeking from Congress will be used to strengthen U.S. military readiness for the fight against terrorism.
Another portion of the extra money will pay the mounting costs of flying over major American cities, including Washington, since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a message to U.S. troops worldwide that some among them would be called to join the battle against “powerful and terrible enemies.”