Troops scouting inside Afghanistan; Bush says U.S. in hot pursuit of terrorists

Friday, September 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said Friday the United States is ``in hot pursuit'' of terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and a top administration official said U.S. special forces have conducted scouting missions in Afghanistan, where suspected terrorists are hiding.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the work of U.S. and British forces is a prelude to potential military action. The special forces have been deployed in the last few days, the official said, as the United States charts a course to find prime suspect Osama bin Laden.

More than two weeks after the attacks, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said any economic stimulus legislation could include relief for workers _ a step that congressional Democrats are demanding to assist those laid off in the aftermath of the strikes.

In another development, a Bush Cabinet member said Reagan National Airport outside Washington will ``definitely reopen.'' Fleischer said Bush has yet to make a decision about the facility, in close proximity to critical federal buildings.

The rapid pace of events came as a delegation of Pakistani religious leaders and government officials pressed the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan _ with no sign of success _ to turn over bin Laden, suspected as the mastermind behind the attacks on Washington and New York.

In an Oval Office meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, the president said he and his military planners have taken note of lessons learned by Russia in its long, brutal struggle against Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

``It is very hard to fight a ... guerrilla war with conventional forces,'' Bush said. ``There may or may not be a conventional component to'' U.S. military action against terrorists believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, he said.

Bush refused to discuss details of his military plans, but said: ``Make no mistake about it _ we're in hot pursuit'' of terrorists.

The president gave Abdullah a pen he used earlier in the day to sign a free-trade pact with the moderate Arab nation.

In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said it could take a full year to complete the cleanup at the site of the World Trade Center. The twin towers collapsed shortly after hijacked planes were piloted directly into the upper floors of the buildings.

A third plane was piloted into the Pentagon, which sustained heavy damage. Because of Reagan National Airport's proximity to the nation's military nerve center, as well as the White House and the Capitol, the facility has remained shut down. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside, after an evident struggle between passengers and the terrorists.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, appearing on ABC's ``Good Morning America,'' said the airport would definitely reopen, and said he looked for a decision from Bush as early as the middle of next week.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said no decision had been reached on the fate of the airport, despite Mineta's comments. He said Bush is concerned about the economic impact of keeping the airport closed, but realizes there are security issues as well.

Separately, senior White House officials say there are tentative plans for Bush or Mineta to announce next week that the airport will be reopened once security issues, such as securing cockpits, are addressed.

For the first time, the FBI said Thursday that some of the 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks have been linked to bin Laden.

That revelation came with the public release of photographs of the suspected hijackers, even though authorities said they were not sure they had the suspected terrorists' real names.

``What we are currently doing is determining whether, when these individuals came to the United States, these were their real names or they changed their names for use with false identification in the United States,'' FBI Director Robert Mueller said. He urged anyone who recognized the men to contact the FBI.

The terrorists left behind texts in Arabic giving them step-by-step instructions for their suicide mission and preparing them spiritually for death, a law enforcement official said Friday.

Published accounts characterized the document as a mission guide that urged the hijackers to do such things as smile at their taxicab driver, ``crave death'' and ``make sure no one is following you.''

The Taliban so far have refused the U.S. demand to surrender bin Laden, and Pakistan, the only country with diplomatic ties to Afghanistan, has repeatedly tried to persuade them to cooperate. Pakistani religious leaders attempted to persuade Afghanistan's government to hold indirect or direct talks with the United States.

At home, the Bush administration is moving to shift the way the nation works to thwart terrorist plots. Officials said Bush's new domestic anti-terrorism chief, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, will oversee as many as 100 employees and will have significant input on budgets for the 40-plus agencies involved in counterterrorism.

Bush also asked governors to post National Guard troops at airports Thursday as a first step to take federal control of airline security and coax Americans back into the skies.

``This nation will not live in fear,'' the president said.

Bush revealed a plan that envisions stationing 4,000 to 5,000 troops at the nation's 420 commercial airports for up to six months while the federal government prepares to step in. Also, many more in-flight air marshals would be trained and a federal agency would be set up to oversee the screening of passengers and luggage.