Pentagon orders combat aircraft to Persian Gulf area
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon on Wednesday ordered combat aircraft to begin moving to bases in the Persian Gulf area, the first concrete sign of preparations to retaliate for last week's terrorist attacks, a senior defense official said.
The combat aircraft will be preceded by teams of Air Force air controllers who will coordinate the refueling of the fighters and bombers as they deploy from the United States to the Gulf region, the official said.
The deployment has been dubbed "Operation Infinite Justice," the official said.
The official said no aircraft have moved yet. First to move would be the air controller teams, which must establish ground communications at various places along the air route in order to coordinate refueling operations.
Likely to be included in the force of combat aircraft are F-16s, F-15s and possibly B-1 bombers, the official said.
The United States already has a sizeable and well-developed military presence in the Persian Gulf, with combat aircraft stationed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and elsewhere. It appeared likely that many of the extra combat aircraft to be deployed in the next several days would go to Kuwait and Bahrain, the official said.
Earlier Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that America's war on terrorism must go beyond Osama bin Laden and hunt down associated networks of terrorists in dozens of countries.
"We have a lot of evidence about a number of countries harboring terrorists that are working across the globe," Rumsfeld told CNN.
"This is not a problem of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. It is a problem of a number of networks of terrorists that have been active across the globe," Rumsfeld said. Bin Laden, considered by the Bush administration to be the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and his associates have activities in 50 or 60 countries, including the United States, the secretary said.
"We need to take this effort, this cause, this campaign to the root of the problem, and that's the terrorists and the countries that are harboring them," Rumsfeld said.
As Rumsfeld spoke, sailors and Marines on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its battle group prepared to leave Norfolk, Va., for a long-scheduled deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. Officials declined to be specific about its ultimate destination.
Another carrier, the USS Enterprise, was scheduled to have returned home from the Persian Gulf this month after the USS Carl Vinson arrived to relieve it, but the orders were changed and the Enterprise remained in the region. This could put three carrier battle groups in the area within weeks.
Rumsfeld, on CNN, said the United States is getting overwhelming support from governments around the world in its preparations for its efforts against terrorism
"I think what you will see evolve over the next 6-8-10-12 months, probably over a period of years, is a coalition" to help battle terrorists, Rumsfeld said.
The Defense Department is moving to a war footing in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack, in which hijackers commandeered four commercial jetliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon and a field in southern Pennsylvania. The attack killed thousands.
The defense secretary visited the still-charred recovery and repair site at the Pentagon Wednesday before going to his own offices. He went to the site, he said, to thank the workers searching for remains and helping recover up from the last Tuesday's terrorist jetliner strike.
"They are making very good progress. It is an enormous task, there's so much to be moved," Rumsfeld said.
Not only must the human remains be taken care of, but classified papers have to be collected and other debris moved, he said.
"They are doing a terrific job. It's taking hundreds and hundreds of people," Rumsfeld said.
On Tuesday, he said the effort to root out terrorists "will not be quick, and it will not be easy."
Speaking at a Pentagon press conference, Rumsfeld said the enormity of the attack leaves the U.S. government little choice but to launch a large-scale military offensive.
"What we'll have to do is exactly what I said: Use the full spectrum of our capabilities," Rumsfeld said.
He said he does not foresee calling up more than 35,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve to help with recovery efforts at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and to bolster the nation's defense.
President Bush last week signed an order authorizing a call-up of as many as 50,000 reservists. As of Tuesday, none had been called up, although many units have been told to prepare to be activated.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Plewes, chief of the Army Reserve, said that if President Bush orders a military offensive against terrorist networks and their supporters, the Army probably would have to activate more than the 10,000 National Guard and Reserve members currently scheduled for call-up.
"Quite clearly, 10,000 (reservists) in a large-scale anti-terrorism campaign would be exhausted," he said.