Bush announces opening of attacks
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said the United States opened a new front in the war against international terrorism Sunday with its attacks on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist camps.
"On my order, U.S. forces have begun strikes on terrorist camps of al Qaeda, and the military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," Bush said in a somber, televised address from the White House Treaty Room. The air assaults, he said, were joined by Great Britain, with assorted intelligence efforts and logistical support from several other nations, including France, Germany, Australia and Canada.
"We are supported by the collective will of the world," Bush said.
U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles from American and British warships struck at al Qaeda bases and Taliban military installations near several key Afghan cities, including Kabul and Kandahar.
About 40 nations were now on board with the United States' nascent anti-terror coalition, Bush said, all demonstrating varying degrees of cooperation. Bush described the action as "carefully targeted," and said its aim was to "cut the military capability of the Taliban regime."
The military mission, which began a scant 25 minutes before Bush took to the national airwaves, targets al Qaeda and its related terror networks, Bush said.
The United States says it has ample evidence that al Qaeda, led by Saudi-born suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, is responsible for planning and executing the airborne attacks of September 11 on New York and Washington.
Bush said the action was taken after the Taliban refused to meet several non-negotiable American demands.
"More than two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps. Hand over leaders of the al Qaeda network, and return all foreign nationals, including American citizens unjustly detained in your country," Bush said.
The foreign nationals he spoke of are eight Westerners, including two Americans, who were detained by the Taliban, and are on trial, for preaching Christianity -- a crime punishable by death in Taliban-controlled areas.
"None of these demands was met, and now, the Taliban will pay a price," Bush said.
Disrupting command and control facilities
Early U.S. aims, Bush said, will be to pick apart the al Qaeda network, whose bases dot Afghanistan's forbidding central and northern mountain ranges, and to disable the military machine of the Taliban, which is engaged in an ongoing struggle against rebel groups in the north of the country.
"By destroying camps and disrupting communications, we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans," Bush said.
"Initially the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places," he continued. "Our military action is also designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice."
But the operation will also have a humanitarian component, Bush said.
"As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan," Bush said. "The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people."
And, in a sharp warning to states that may be regularly involved in sponsorship terrorist activity across the globe, Bush said action in Afghanistan was only 'phase one' of the allied military campaign.
"Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocence, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves," he said. "And they will take that lonely path at their own peril."
Bush announced the military action about two hours after returning to the White House. He had been at Camp David for the weekend, and had attended a memorial for fallen firefighters in rural Maryland just hours before he announced the attacks.
The president placed a series of telephone calls to several world leaders prior to the commencement of action, including to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin confirmed early on Sunday afternoon that he had spoken with Bush.
Bush also spoke with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov.
Vice President Dick Cheney was also engaged in several diplomatic telephone conversations, before he was moved from the White House to an undisclosed location -- an action described by officials as a "security precaution."
The president placed telephone calls to members of the congressional leadership on Saturday night to inform them of imminent military action.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois; House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri; Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota; and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, all received evening phone calls.
Congressional leaders issued a joint statement of support for the U.S.-led action Sunday afternoon.
"The Administration has properly made it clear that today's action and any future action are directed against those who perpetrated the heinous attacks on the United States on September 11th, not against Islam or the people of Afghanistan," the statement said.
Lott said Sunday that Bush "has been very good about keeping the Congress appropriately informed."
"I'm very appreciative of what he has done and that the leadership of Congress has kept its mouth shut so that we would have the benefit of the president to make the final decision about when and where this action would take place," he said.
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said Sunday afternoon that the United States had a "clear right to self defense" following the September 11 attacks under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
The attacks, Boucher said, were carefully planned to avoid civilian casualties.
The State Department then issued a warning to all Americans overseas to exercise caution as U.S. military action continued.
-- CNN's Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.
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