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Bush envisions long stay in Afghanistan for U.S. troops

President Bush and Gen. Tommy Franks address reporters at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas
President Bush and Gen. Tommy Franks address reporters at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas  

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush said Friday he is pleased with the progress of the war in Afghanistan but said he expects U.S. troops will remain there for "quite a long period of time" until their mission is complete.

"The world must know that this administration will not blink in the face of danger and will not tire when it comes to completing the missions that we said we would do," Bush said, speaking to reporters at his central Texas ranch. "The world will learn that when the United States is harmed, we will follow through."

The president spoke with reporters at his Texas ranch, after getting a briefing from Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of the U.S. Central Command and the top military leader for the war in Afghanistan.

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Bush also said that, despite the success of the military efforts in Afghanistan, Americans must remain vigilant to potential terrorist threats. The United States will continue efforts to combat terrorism both abroad and at home, and to hunt down Osama bin Laden and top members of his al Qaeda network, he said.

"I hope 2002 is a year of peace, but I'm realistic," Bush said. "And I know full well that bin Laden and his cronies would like to harm America again."

The president flatly dismissed the bin Laden videotape broadcast this week, saying the al Qaeda leader "is not in charge of Afghanistan anymore."

"He is not escaping us," Bush said. "This is a guy who three months was in control of a country. Now, he's maybe in control of a cave. He's on the run....I like our position better than his."

Bush said he anticipated a long campaign in Afghanistan that entailed not only ousting the former Taliban regime and crippling al Qaeda, but also ensuring the stability of the country.

"I imagine us being there for quite a long period of time but my timetable is going to be set by Tommy Franks," he said. "We won't be making political decisions about what to do with our military."

Franks, standing by the president's side as he addressed reporters, said the military will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to complete the mission set out by Bush.

"We will not be hurried. We will not be pressed into doing something that does not represent our national objectives," Franks said.

On another matter, Bush said he had spoken Friday morning with an Arab-American agent in his Secret Service security detail who was allegedly asked to get off an American Airlines flight to Texas because the pilot was dissatisfied with the man's answers about his identity and the weapons he was carrying.

"I told him how proud I was that he was by my side. He's here on the ranch. He's guarding me," the president said, adding that an inquiry is under way to determine why the agent was forced off the commercial flight.

"If he was treated that way because of his ethnicity," Bush said, "that will make me madder than heck."




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