San Diego Union-Tribune

October 12, 2001

War going as planned, Bush says
   Taliban is offered 'second chance' to give up bin Laden


WASHINGTON -- President Bush warned Americans last night that "it may take a year or two" to root out Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, but he assured them that the opening rounds of the war on terrorism are going
"according to plan."

On the one-month anniversary of the attacks on the United States, the president issued what he called a "report to the American people on the state of our war against terror."

"One month after great suffering and sorrow, America is strong and determined and generous," Bush said in his first prime-time news conference.

After five days of military operations, Bush said, "we have ruined terrorist training camps, disrupted their communications, weakened the Taliban military and destroyed most of their air defenses."

In short, he said of the terrorists hiding inside Afghanistan, "we've got them on the run."

In his "report," the president:

Offered the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan a "second chance" to turn over bin Laden and be spared further punishment of the sort they have absorbed since the first allied missiles and bombs rained down on the country Sunday night.

Said he does not know if bin Laden is dead or alive.

Acknowledged that Vice President Dick Cheney is keeping out of sight for security reasons, but somewhat lightheartedly disclosed that Cheney had slipped into the Oval Office yesterday and is "looking swell."

Urged Americans to report anything suspicious but also to be confident that the government is being vigilant, as indicated by the warning of possible attacks issued earlier in the day by the FBI.

Said the Sept. 11 attacks strengthen the case for strategic missile defense, even if that means abrogating arms-control treaties like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The question about the treaty, along with one about Middle East peace, were the only two of 14 queries not directly about the war on terrorism. Bush took pains to both counsel patience and herald what he called a "great deal" of progress so far in the monthlong campaign.

To make that point, Bush used what was once a staple of presidential discourse, the prime-time news conference. But such events have fallen out of favor in recent years as the networks expressed reluctance to break into programming to cover them. The last evening news conference was held by
President Clinton on April 20, 1995.

But with bombs falling in Afghanistan and rubble still being sifted in New York City, the president this time had the attention of the nation. He cited the warning issued earlier in the day by the FBI as proof that "your government is
doing everything we can to recover from these attacks and to try to prevent others."

What Bush called "a blanket alert" was triggered by a "general threat" against the country picked up by intelligence agencies. He expressed hope that it may be the last such alert, adding, "But given the attitude of the evildoers, it may not be."

Bush asked Americans to assist the government by reporting anything unusual to police.

"If they see something that is suspicious, something out of the norm . . . they ought to notify local law authorities," he said, quickly adding that people should not use such situations to vent prejudice.

"People need to be logical," he said. " . . . I want to urge my fellow Americans not to use this as an opportunity to pick on somebody that doesn't look like you or doesn't share your religion."

Bush gave an upbeat report on the progress made on the various fronts of the anti-terrorism campaign -- diplomatic, military, legal and financial.

"We're mounting a sustained campaign to drive the terrorists out of their hidden caves and to bring them to justice," he said. "All missions are being executed according to plan on the military front. All is strong and united on the diplomatic front."

He also brought up the question of how long the military campaign might take.

"This particular battlefront will last as long as it takes to bring al-Qaeda to justice," Bush said. "It may happen tomorrow. It may happen a month from now. It may take a year or two. But we will prevail."

Reminded by a reporter that he had said bin Laden was "wanted -- dead or alive," the president chose not to focus solely on the man believed to have masterminded the hijackings that claimed more than 5,000 lives.

"I don't know if he's dead or alive. I want him brought to justice, however," Bush said.

"We'll get him running. We'll smoke him out of his cave, and we'll get him eventually."

But Bush urged Americans to focus on the bigger picture of taking on terrorism.

"Success or failure depends not on bin Laden. Success or failure depends upon routing out terrorism where it may exist all around the world," he said. "He's just one person, a part of a network, and we're slowly but surely, with
determined fashion, routing that network out and bringing it to justice."

The president said the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan had been warned that to "avoid punishment they should turn over the parasites that hide in their country. They obviously refuse to do so, and now they're paying a price."

Bush said the offer still stands.

"If you cough him up and his people today . . . we'll reconsider what we're doing to your country," he said. "You still have a second chance. Just bring him in -- and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals
with him."

At the same time, the president indicated he does not intend to let the Taliban regime reclaim the government. Instead, he called on the United Nations to build a new government.

He was cautious in speaking about widening the war to other countries suspected of supporting terrorists, suggesting that he will always give a government the chance to cooperate.

Asked about Iraq, he called President Saddam Hussein "an evil man."

"And so, we're watching him very carefully," Bush said about the man his father, former President Bush, defeated in a war a decade ago.

Asked about Cheney, the president said he takes seriously the possibility that the vice president may be called on to keep the government running. But then he joked about the second in command.

"I shook hands with the vice president today in the Oval Office, welcomed him out of his secure location. . . . I was pleased to see him. He's looking swell."

On other matters, Bush said he was "amazed" at the hatred of America in parts of the world. He then concluded his news conference with an appeal "to the children of America."

Evoking visions of starving and suffering children in Afghanistan, he urged children across the United States to wash cars, mow lawns or hold bake sales so each can contribute $1 to a special White House relief fund to alleviate that suffering 7,000 miles away.