American and British forces launched air and missile assaults against Afghanistan on Sunday, the first in a series of long-anticipated strikes against the terrorists believed to be responsible for last month's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
President Bush announced the air and naval offensive in a midday televised address to the nation, saying the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan "will pay a price" for providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and the leaders of his Al Qaeda terrorist network.
"The battle is now joined on many fronts," Bush said in his speech from the White House. "We will not waver, we will not tire. We will not falter and we will not fail."
In a speech to his nation, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of the Taliban: "They were given the choice of siding with justice or siding with terror and they chose to side with terror."
Cruise missiles, launched from British and U.S. vessels, and missiles and bombs from long-range bombers and carrier-based fighters, struck the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well as the cities of Kandahar and Jalalabad. More strikes followed into the night. Kabul was plunged into darkness while residents in Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual stronghold, were reported to be in a panic.
The Pentagon said the assault began at 8:57 p.m. in Afghanistan. At least seven areas were targeted, officials said. At the same time, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance attacked the Taliban militia north of Kabul.
As the attacks began, the State Department warned of possible retaliatory action against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. In the wake of planned violent protests in Indonesia and Pakistan, U.S. diplomatic installations braced for potential assaults in those countries and elsewhere.
At home, authorities tightened security at airports, seaports, utilities and government facilities across the country. In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney moved to an undisclosed location as a precaution, the White House said.
"American people need to be alert," said Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. "Threats do remain, and government and law-enforcement agencies are taking all necessary precautions, but threats do remain. This is war."
The strikes came 26 days after the suicide hijacking attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and two weeks after Bush issued an ultimatum to the Taliban to hand over bin Laden or share his fate.
Emphasizing the expected long-term nature of the military offensive known as Operation Enduring Freedom, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there were no immediate indications of the attacks' success or of casualties.
"It is not yet over," Rumsfeld said, adding that the U.S.- and British-led campaign would be "sustained" and "continuous ... until we are convinced that those terrorist networks are destroyed."
The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan said bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, survived the first wave of attacks. "By the grace of God, Mullah Omar and bin Laden are alive," Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Rumsfeld said bin Laden was not specifically targeted in Sunday's attacks, but broader terrorist networks were, as well as anti-aircraft sites, military headquarters, airfields and Taliban tanks.
The aim, officials said, was to wipe out Taliban anti-aircraft weapons and aircraft and set up the conditions needed for a longer campaign to unearth the terrorists. That action is expected to include covert or special forces operations.
Food packets also dropped
As U.S. and British forces bombed Afghan targets, two C-17 cargo planes dropped 37,500 food packets to starving Afghans to underscore a message that the strikes are meant to harm terrorists, not ordinary civilians. The military also dropped leaflets and made radio broadcasts into Afghanistan to explain the U.S. action.
The only surprise from the coordinated assaults was the timing. In the nearly four weeks since the terrorist attacks killed more than 5,000 people, the White House repeatedly demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden and dismantle the terrorist bases.
Bush and other administration officials consistently rejected attempts by the Taliban to negotiate a resolution and, in recent days, signaled military action was imminent. The strikes came four days after Blair released a dossier outlining the evidence tying bin Laden and Al Qaeda to the terrorist attacks in the United States.
In his Sunday address, delivered barely half an hour after the strikes began, Bush said: "More than two weeks ago I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps; hand over leaders of the Al Qaeda network, and return all foreign nationals including American citizens unjustly detained in your country. None of those demands were met. And now the Taliban will pay a price."
By targeting camps and communication systems, the president said, "We will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans."
Bush warned that the task ahead would be a long one. "Initially the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places. Our military action is also designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice."
In the hours leading up to the attack, the Taliban reportedly dispatched 8,000 soldiers to Afghanistan's northern border with Uzbekistan. "We will never bow before the Americans and will fight to the last," a Taliban spokesman said.
A Northern Alliance spokesman said the Taliban was moving armored personnel carriers north of Kabul in an apparent attempt to defend against a ground attack from rebel forces or from U.S. forces airlifted into Uzbekistan. Rumsfeld said that if the U.S. had "significant numbers of U.S. military on the ground, it would have been known by now."
The Taliban, which has battled the rebel movement for years, controls about 90 percent of the country.
The U.S.-British offensive involved 15 land-based B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers taking off from the U.S. and Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean; 25 carrier-based warplanes; and 50 cruise missiles from U.S. and British warships. Submarines also launched missiles from the Arabian Sea. The Pentagon said there were no reports of American or British casualties.
The Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said civilians had been killed in the strike, but there was no independent confirmation.
Afghanistan's former king said Sunday he recognizes the United States' right to pursue those responsible for last month's terrorist attacks, but he urged that innocent Afghan civilians be spared.
Former King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who was ousted in a coup nearly 30 years ago, said in a statement from Rome that he wants the integrity of his country and the dignity of Afghans preserved. "Unfortunately the unpatriotic position of the Taliban and their sponsors has again inflicted pain, sorrow and destruction on the people of Afghanistan," the statement said.
Governments around the world lined up behind the American and British action.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Germany has given its "unreserved backing." Pakistan, the only nation to still recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government, said the Taliban leaders brought the strikes on themselves.
Russia lauds `decisive action'
The Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement supporting the offensive.
"It is time for decisive action with this evil," the Russian statement said. "Terrorists wherever they are--in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Middle East or the Balkans--should know that they will be taken to justice."
Bush promised a broader international coalition as the offensive proceeds.
Canada, Australia, Germany and France have pledged military forces, and 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East have granted air transit or landing rights for military operations, the president said. Many countries, Bush said, have already shared intelligence.
In an effort to maintain international support, Bush will dispatch Secretary of State Colin Powell to India and Pakistan late this week.
Pakistan has offered the U.S. airspace rights for its military campaign. India, Pakistan's chief rival in the region, also has offered help but has raised doubts about the wisdom of the U.S. working with Pakistan.
Powell spent Sunday calling foreign leaders, including Mexican President Vicente Fox and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, to explain the reasons behind the attacks.
Blair, who has been the most outspoken international supporter of the U.S. war on terror, told his nation: "No country lightly commits forces to military action and the inevitable risks involved."
"The dangers of inaction are far, far greater--the threat of further such outrages, the threat to our economies, the threat to the stability of the world," Blair said. "There is no doubt about bin Laden's involvement" in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the prime minister said, "nor is there any question that the Taliban government was given the opportunity to avoid a military response."
Bush administration officials took pains to emphasize that the military action is not an attack against religion nor is it aimed at the Afghan people.
"Our objective is to defeat those who use terrorism and those who house or support them," Rumsfeld said shortly after the attacks began. "We also seek to raise the cost of doing business for foreign terrorists who have chose Afghanistan from which to organize their activities, and for the oppressive Taliban regime that continues to tolerate terrorist presence in those portions of Afghanistan which they control."
Blair and Bush said there were humanitarian reasons for the moves against the Taliban. "The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies," the president said. "As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan."
The food packets are about the size and weight of a hardcover book. They have a picture of a person eating from a pouch and are stamped with an American flag. Written on the package is a statement in English, French and Spanish, saying the food is a gift from the people of the U.S.
In his broadcast address, Bush said he knows that "many Americans feel fear today."
Bush warns of sacrifices
"In the months ahead our patience will be one of our strengths: patience with the long waits that will result from tighter security; patience in understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals; patience in all the sacrifices that may come," Bush said.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans issued a joint statement Sunday endorsing the military strikes. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the U.S. would eventually have to deal with Iraq, among other countries suspected of supporting terrorists.
"One adviser that we have met with says to remember that revenge is better eaten cold," Lott said. "Take your time, have a plan, go after your first target, second target," Lott said on "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), said attacking Iraq would be justified if the evidence shows a link between Iraqi agents and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We're in a war against terrorism," Lieberman said. "We can't stop with bin Laden and the Taliban."
Despite the added security precautions, the National Football League played its full schedule of games. The telecast of the Emmy Awards, already postponed once because of the Sept. 11 attacks, was put off again and has not been rescheduled.
Bob Kemper reported from Washington; Colin McMahon from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Tribune foreign correspondents Michael A. Lev in Peshawar, Pakistan, Uli Schmetzer in Islamabad and Tribune news services contributed. Tribune staff reporter Tim Jones wrote this report.