WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon ordered dozens of advanced aircraft to the Persian Gulf region on Wednesday as the hour of military retaliation for deadly terrorist attacks drew closer. President Bush announced he would address Congress and the nation tonight.
"I owe it to the country to give an explanation," the president said in the Oval Office.
Bush spoke after meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the economy, weak before the attacks and buffeted by thousands of layoffs in the airline industry and elsewhere in the eight days since. "No question it's tough times," he said. "This is a shock to the economy and we're going to respond."
The president's announcement that he would go before a joint session of Congress marked a quickening in the pace of events as the administration worked on military, diplomatic and economic responses to the attacks that killed thousands.
Aircraft carrier en route
Pentagon official outlined the first steps of "Operation Infinite Justice," the decision to send F-15s, F-16s and possibly B-1 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The aircraft will follow the deployment of air traffic control teams. In addition, an aircraft carrier left Virginia en route to joining two other carriers in the region.
"There are movements and we will see more movements," said the second-in-command at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz.
The president devoted a portion of his day to diplomacy, beckoning all countries around the globe to contribute, some openly, some secretly to "the long campaign" against terrorism.
Looking ahead to his speech, Bush said, "I look forward to the opportunity to explain to the American people who would do this to our great country. And why."
Officials said Bush will not ask Congress to declare war in his speech, set for 8 p.m. CDT. They also cautioned against expecting the president to specify when military retaliation will occur. "This is not a speech to announce military action," said Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser.
The speech will come nine days after the worst terrorist attacks in the nation's history. Hijackers seized four jetliners and flew two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania, apparently after passengers struggled with hijackers. The number of dead is expected to exceed 5,400.
Bush issued his call for an international effort to "help us round up these people," responsible as the leader of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan challenged assertions that Osama bin Laden masterminded the attacks. The Taliban leader called for an effort to find the real culprits.
Increasingly, administration officials said their investigation was pointing to bin Laden as their man, and made it clear that military retaliation against his al-Qaida terrorist network and nations that harbor it was only a matter of time. "I have no doubt that military power is part of" the government's response Rice told reporters.
Some officials involved in the military planning want Bush to target Iraq, but advisers close to the president say Saddam Hussein is not an initial target. However, the administration has put the world on notice that any nation -- including Iraq -- harboring terrorists could be the focus of U.S. strikes down the line.