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Bush: Bin Laden 'virtually took responsibility'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After watching Osama bin Laden's videotaped comments on Qatar television Sunday, President Bush concluded bin Laden "virtually took responsibility" for last month's attacks, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters Monday

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Nevertheless, Fleischer said, the president sees the campaign against global terrorism as "much bigger than any one person," the comment reflecting administration statements to the U.N. Security Council earlier in the day that more nations may be implicated and targeted in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

"This is not a war against Osama bin Laden," Fleischer said. "This is a war against terrorists on multiple fronts. This is about a whole network of terrorists operating around the world with global reach who have the ability to inflict harm on the U.S. and its friends.

"If Osama bin Laden was gone today, the war would continue tomorrow," Fleischer said.

Fleischer also said the president noted the videotape was shot in daylight and that the U.S.-British military strikes occurred at night. The tape was presented as the response by bin Laden and his al Qaeda leadership to the strikes.

Fleischer said some of the key soldiers in the war in terrorism would be "very smart people sitting at desks" working at computer terminals trying to choke off financial resources funneled to terrorists through secret bank accounts or fake charities.

"There is a military component to what is under way," Fleischer said. "There are so many other components. And taking away the terrorists' money is a crucial component of it and literally that is a war that is fought by people wearing suits, sitting at computer terminals."

The president said as much Monday morning as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was sworn-in as chief of the administration's new homeland security operation.

"The first shot of the war was fired several weeks ago, as we began freezing bank accounts," Bush said.

"Yesterday, we opened another front on the war on terrorism as we began conventional military operations designed to destroy terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban government," Bush said.

He added that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld informed him Monday morning the air missions were "executed as planned."

Attack in the works for a week

Meanwhile, a more defined picture of the president's planning process for the military strikes on Afghanistan began to emerge Monday.

Bush decided nearly one week ago -- Tuesday, October 2 -- to proceed with the strikes, top advisers said Monday, and he gave the go-ahead in a series of conversations Friday and Saturday after receiving assurances that all military and diplomatic pieces were in place.

"Last week was a month long," White House chief of staff Andrew Card said in a senior staff meeting Monday as he looked back on the decision.

At his National Security Council meeting last Tuesday, the president called top adviser Karen Hughes into the Oval Office and told her he had told the military to prepare for strikes.

"The Bush administration will enforce its doctrine," Hughes quoted the president as saying, a reference to his pledge to Congress, she said, that if the Taliban did not turn over Osama Bin Laden and other associates, it would share in their fate.

Bush told Hughes to start thinking about a speech to the nation to explain the strikes and the strategy behind them.

At Friday's National Security Council meeting, the president asked Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if the commander of forces in the region had everything he needed to launch the operation.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the president "turned to Gen. Myers and said, 'Dick, is Tommy Franks ready to go?'"

Myers, she said, responded: "Yes sir, he is ready to go."

At that point, the president gave the military the orders to prepare for strikes on short notice.

Franks is the Army general who heads the U.S. Central Command, which covers 25 nations of Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As such, he is the overall commander of the operation against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The final order clearing bombers to leave their bases for the region came Saturday at another National Security Council meeting, after Bush called on each major participant and asked them if there was any reason not to proceed.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the diplomatic coalition was in place. Rumsfeld told the president his trip to the region had gone well and that there was no military reason not to proceed.

There was a "sense of the weighty decision," Hughes said, even among friends and family members at Camp David who were not aware of the specifics of the president's decision to authorize military strikes. "There was a very heavy burden on the president."

'What do we do now?'

In a briefing with reporters, Rice and Hughes also said:

-- Military planning began virtually immediately after the September 11 attacks, and the plan was gradually refined as troops were deployed to the region and the administration received a better sense of what support nations in the region were willing to provide.

-- The administration convened discussions about combating bin Laden and the al Qaeda network soon after Bush took office

-- The strikes against the World Trade Center and Pentagon opened the door to attacks on Afghanistan under "self defense" clauses in international treaties. "The best defense is a good offense," Rice said.

-- Powell, Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney reviewed the president's address to the nation, at his request, and Rice left Camp David early Sunday to head back to Washington to coordinate with them.

-- Rumsfeld called Bush on Sunday to tell him the operation was under way, and the president then went to the Treaty Room to deliver his address to the American people. Afterward, he invited top aides to have lunch in the Roosevelt Room.

Hughes recalled sitting down and asking, "What do we do now?" Rice said she replied: "Now we wait."

Rice said Bush received several calls from Rumsfeld on the early stages of the operation, and that she briefed him throughout the day as well.

Both said Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair saw "eye to eye" on the broad strategy from the very beginning, and that they had a detailed strategy conversation when Blair was in Washington and attended the president's speech to Congress.

While the two leaders discussed timing and the British role in the strikes, "timing was a decision of the president," Rice said.

Hughes said she was in touch with Blair's top communications aide and that when she told him of the president's plans for a televised address, the Blair adviser said the prime minister would watch Bush speak and then deliver a statement of his own.

Hughes said "several hundred million dollars" in assets had been frozen around the world so far in the crackdown on financial support of terrorist organizations. She said the Treasury Department was poised to expand the list of organizations soon.

-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this story.



 
 
 
 


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