Bush tones down war rhetoric; thousands of layoffs announced

Flight security plan readied

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Delta Air Lines announced thousands of layoffs Wednesday in a jarring prelude to a new administration bid to restore confidence in air travel following the terrorist attacks. Pakistan reported broad agreement with the U.S. military on a plan to strike Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.

With an American armed forces buildup in motion, a crowd of thousands stormed the abandoned U.S. Embassy compound in Afghanistan's capital, burning President Bush in effigy and chanting words of support for bin Laden.

''I consider bin Laden an evil man,'' Bush said at the White House, referring to the person the administration has named the leading suspect behind the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. A man ''so dominated by evil,'' he added.

The largest investigation in FBI history led to the arrest of nine people in three states Wednesday on charges of fraudulently obtaining licenses to transport hazardous materials. The arrests in Missouri, Michigan and Washington state followed FBI warnings that terrorists may strike next using chemical or biological weapons.

Also, a federal magistrate ordered a Virginia man, Mohamed Abdi, held without bail. Prosecutors said Abdi's name and phone number were found in a car registered to one of the 19 suspected hijackers.

By design or not, there was strikingly little talk of military action from the administration during the day, and an evident easing in the near-warlike atmosphere that took hold 15 days earlier when hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon.

Bush bantered with reporters at one point, and the second-in-command at the Pentagon went so far as to say that military strikes against the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan may be well into the future.

''I think it can't be stressed enough that everybody who's waiting for military action ... needs to rethink this thing,'' Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, where he appealed to the NATO allies for intelligence-gathering assistance.

''We don't believe in just demonstrating that our military is capable of bombing. The whole world knows that,'' he said.

At the same time, a Pakistani official, wrapping up two days of talks with an American military delegation, said there was ''complete unanimity'' on military preparations for combating terrorists inside Afghanistan. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf, said there was ''no difference of opinion between Pakistan and America on the issue of combating terrorism.''

Underscoring the delicacy of Pakistan's position, Qureshi also said his country had no involvement ''in any action plan against Afghanistan.'' Pakistan is the only nation in the world with diplomatic ties to the Taliban government of Afghanistan, and is home to a large Muslim population that has held anti-American rallies in recent days.

The diplomatic and military maneuvering unfolded as Delta chairman Leo Mullin said his company was joining the roster of carriers to lay off workers and cut service in the wake of the attacks.

''War was declared on the United States of America, using aviation as the instrument of destruction,'' he said in Atlanta. ''As a result, the operational and financial outlook for airlines has changed precipitously, and drastic measures are required if we are to avoid being among the first economic casualties of the war.'' He said Delta would cut up to 13,000 employees by the end of the year, an unspecified number through layoffs.

Previous cutbacks in the industry totaled more than 100,000, including steps taken by aircraft maker Boeing to slash its costs.

Bush did some modest jawboning on the subject of airline safety during the day, with more to come.

Meeting with Muslim leaders at the White House, he told reporters some of his guests had traveled to the nation's capital by plane and arrived safely. ''One of the keys to economic recovery is going be the vitality of the airline industry,'' he said, and he said he would be unveiling ''confidence building measures'' as well as ''concrete steps'' on Thursday when he travels to Chicago.

Officials have said previously the president would propose new steps to make cockpit doors more secure and to place armed marshals aboard most planes as a deterrent to hijackers. He was also expected to propose a great federal involvement in the screening of passengers and baggage at airports.

Bush also made a midday trip to the CIA, where Director George Tenet has been criticized by some in Congress for the agency's failure to warn of the attacks. Bush made clear his view is different. ''I've got a lot of confidence in him and I've got a lot of confidence in the CIA, and so should America,'' he said as Tenet looked on from a nearby seat on the stage.

Bush and his spokesman also struck a new tone in talking about Chechnya, the breakaway region of Russia. One day after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke warmly about the administration's war on terrorism, spokesman Ari Fleischer cited ties between the Chechen rebels and bin Laden's network. He called on Chechen leaders to ''immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups such as Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida organization.''

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