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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2001

President braces nation for drawn-out military struggle

November 21, 2001

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— President Bush pledged Wednesday to dismantle Osama bin Laden's terrorist network "piece by piece," urging perseverance from the military after a string of victories.

"We fight now and we will keep on fighting until our victory is complete," Bush told soldiers. "We will never tire and we will hunt them down."

Bush said Afghanistan was "just the beginning" in the effort against terrorism.

"We have made a good start in Afghanistan, yet there is still a lot to be done," Bush said. "There are still terrorists on the loose in Afghanistan, yet we will find and destroy their network piece by piece."

But, he warned, "success against these cells may come more slowly."

Bush expressed his gratitude to troops at home and abroad in a speech to more than 10,000 soldiers. Fort Campbell is home to the 101st Airborne Division, a rapid-deployment air assault division; the 106th Special Operations Aviation Regiment; and the 5th Special Forces Group.

A sea of rowdy, camouflage-clad soldiers massed on the 101st's parade ground, roaring their calling cry in unison: "Air assault!" Black Hawk helicopters buzzed the field, and a giant American flag, a 101st banner and a CH-47 cargo chopper flanked the troops.

Members of the 101st are in Pakistan, and Bush thanked family members of those who have gone or will go.

"Our nation and the world are counting on your loved ones," Bush said. "They are making us secure and they are making us proud."

The president and first lady Laura Bush joined about 150 soldiers for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but before he sat down in the mess hall, the commander in chief ordered a female soldier at the carving station to hold his tray of turkey, green beans and macaroni.

Bush took over the carving duties, waving the knife at soldiers to keep them moving through the line. His wife said he was more effective at carving with an electric knife.

"I hope this isn't the turkey that came to the White House this year," Bush said, referring to his traditional turkey pardon on Monday. To the crowd of soldiers, he said: "I will always remember this as the day I ate turkey with the screaming eagles."

Bush rubbed the buzz cut of Sgt. Chris Lewis before sitting down with about a dozen soldiers. Chaplain Lt. Col. Ken Brown prayed for Bush and asked that God "renew him daily with wisdom."

Later, Bush and his wife were to head to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland for the weekend.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld traveled to Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the Army Special Operations Command, and Pope Air Force Base, N.C., on Wednesday to receive a briefing on special operations and to talk with troops.

The military base appearances by Bush and Rumsfeld marked a hawkish end of a work week that has focused largely on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, on treatment of women there and on respect for Muslims celebrating Ramadan.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander of the Afghanistan campaign, vowed Wednesday that there would be no letup in fighting. Franks said larger-scale ground forces remain an option.

A battalion of Marines trained for counterterrorism and other complex missions probably will be sent to Afghanistan soon, perhaps this week, a senior U.S. official said this week. As many as 1,500 Marines would join Army and Air Force special operations troops already in Afghanistan, the official said.

Battlefield successes have surprised even the administration. Three-quarters of Afghan territory is no longer in Taliban control, according to the Pentagon's estimate.

Aides said they are now guarding against overconfidence and impatience as the military continues the difficult search for Osama bin Laden and senior members of his al-Qaida terrorist network.

"I want people in America to understand that, first of all, the theater in Afghanistan is entering a difficult period of time," Bush said Tuesday. "We could be there for quite a while, which is fine because we've got an objective in mind, and we'll stay there until we get our objective."

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