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Though the president asks for patience, he expresses confidence about the capture of the terrorist leader.
©Los Angeles Times
December 29, 2001
CRAWFORD, Texas -- "It's just a matter of time" before the United States captures Osama bin Laden, President Bush said Friday, expressing no concern that U.S. forces don't know where the terrorist leader is or when he might be found.
"You don't need to worry about whether or not we're going to get him," he said, "because we are."
But the success of the campaign shouldn't be defined by bin Laden's capture, he added, noting that U.S. troops may be deployed in Afghanistan "for quite a long period of time."
Bush's remarks reflected the latest challenge posed by the war on terrorism: maintaining a high level of public support for a lengthening overseas deployment of U.S. troops when military activity has lessened, progress is slow and one of the main objectives of the mission -- the capture of the man Bush blames for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- remains frustratingly elusive.
So the president, speaking to a small group of reporters invited to his ranch for what turned into a 25-minute news conference, counseled patience and forbearance, defined what he would consider a successful mission, called for vigilance at home and said that daily intelligence reports still warn that "bin Laden or his cronies would like to harm America again."
The president derided bin Laden as a man "on the losing side of a rout," and said: "This is a guy who, three months ago, was in control of a country. Now he's maybe in control of a cave. He's on the run.
"I like our position better than his."
In a counterpoint to the president's message that the United States won't quit Afghanistan any time soon, the Afghan Defense Ministry on Friday continued to make statements that seemed aimed at asserting the country's independence from U.S. policy goals.
Bush spoke outside his guest house with Gen. Tommy Franks -- the commander of the Afghan campaign -- at his side. Franks, who visited Afghanistan this week, briefed Bush on the war's progress Friday morning.
Asked how he would define a successful mission, the president said:
"Taliban gone, the country secure, the country stable, that al-Qaida cells rounded up, Taliban fighters brought to justice. The over 6,000 . . . prisoners of war being held by our allies interrogated. . . . There's a lot to do."
Polling suggests that most Americans remain focused on bin Laden's fate. In a recent Newsweek poll, 62 percent of Americans said the war would not be a success unless bin Laden was captured.
"That poll is tapping into something real, and that is people will continue to feel uneasy and unfulfilled as long as they don't have any certainty about his death or capture," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, an independent polling organization.
Kohut said that because the country views the overall war effort as such a success, it's unlikely that a failure to apprehend bin Laden would cause Bush's overwhelming public support to erode.
The president, who said he had seen only "snippets" of the bin Laden videotape released this week, made clear that the U.S. government had little reliable information on his condition or whereabouts.
"He's on the run, if he's running at all," the president said. "We don't know whether he's in a cave with the door shut, or a cave with the door open. We just don't know. . . . But one thing we know is that he's not in charge of Afghanistan anymore."
WASHINGTON -- President Bush Friday played down reports that a draft proposal for antiterrorism military commissions would include protections for defendants' rights and expressed exasperation with unnamed officials who gave the press the details -- even as initial reactions to the reported draft suggested that it was yielding political benefits to the administration.
The draft, described by an administration official as "pretty close" to a final version, the Washington Post reported, was branded "preliminary" by Bush at a press conference in Crawford, Texas. "They're still in discussions about how best to bring justice," Bush added.
- Washington Post