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Bush: Expect U.S. casualties in war on terror

Calls on Iraq to allow renewed weapons inspections

President Bush with rescued aid workers Heather Mercer (right) and Dayna Curry.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has entered a "dangerous period" in the war against terrorism, and Americans should expect some U.S. combat deaths, President Bush said Monday.

Other countries harboring terrorists could also face U.S. action, said Bush, who called on Iraq to allow independent weapons inspections.

"This is a dangerous period of time," Bush said during a Rose Garden appearance with two freed U.S. aid workers who had been held for months by the Taliban. "This is a period of time in which we're now hunting down the people responsible for bombing America."

The battle against terrorism would be a "long, long struggle," and Americans "must be prepared for the loss of life," said Bush, speaking after hundreds of U.S. Marines had set up a base just south of Kandahar.

"Obviously, no president or commander-in-chief hopes anybody loses life in the theater (of war), but it's going to happen," he said. "I believe the American people understand that we have got a mighty struggle on our hands and that there will be sacrifice."

'Chilling message'

Afghanistan, Bush said, "is just the beginning." Other nations could face U.S. reprisals, said Bush, repeating a statement he has made in the past.

"If they fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist," he said. "If they house terrorists, they're terrorists.

"If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable," the president said. "And, as for Mr. Saddam Hussein (president of Iraq), he needs to let inspectors back in his country to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction."

Asked what the consequences would be if Hussein refused to do so, Bush replied, "He'll find out."

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Iraqi leader should take Bush's demand as a "very sober, chilling message."

"There are many, many options available to the international community and to the president," Powell said Monday during an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live."

International weapons inspectors, who went into Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War to check for evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, were ordered out in 1998.

"The inspectors are going back in for one single purpose, and that is to make sure that Iraq is complying with the agreements it make at the end of the Gulf War to give up all weapons of mass destruction activity," said Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war. "The only way we can be sure of that is if the inspectors go back in, are allowed to do their work."

"The president has all of his options, and he will look at all of those countries that continue to provide safe havens and harbors for terrorists," Powell said.

Thanks from workers

The two freed workers, Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, offered thanks for prayers on their behalf during their Taliban custody. They also thanked Bush, and said they were proud to be Americans.

"I think if we had a whole lifetime to say thank you, we wouldn't do it right, we wouldn't do it appropriately," Mercer said.

Mercer, 24, and Curry, 30, arrived in Washington Sunday.

They were among a group of eight international workers for the German-based group Shelter Now who were arrested by the Taliban in August and charged with trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

They were freed November 15, shortly after their Taliban captors were forced to flee the Afghan capital Kabul.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report


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