American and British forces launched air strikes in Afghanistan Sunday, clearing the way for what President George W. Bush said would be a long and sustained campaign against the al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime.
In a televised address Sunday afternoon shortly after the strikes began, Bush said the Taliban would “pay a price.”
“These carefully targeted local actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime,” Bush said.
By 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, explosions and anti-aircraft fire rocked the capital city of Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar, a base for the Taliban.
The Pentagon confirmed that U.S. and British vessels in the Arabian Sea launched 50 Tomahawk missiles intended to destroy training camps used by Osama bin Laden and to cripple the Taliban’s ability to fight back.
The strikes Sunday came two weeks after Bush issued an ultimatum for the Taliban to hand over al Qaeda leaders and return all foreign nationals unjustly held in Afghanistan.
Bush said the U.S. would be joined by more than 40 nations in what he expects to be a broad and “patient” campaign.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said from London Sunday his country would fully support the United States in its response.
“We have set the objectives to eradicate Osama bin Laden’s network of terror and to take action against the Taliban regime that is sponsoring him,” Blair said at his 10 Downing St. residence.
Blair said the United States asked Britain last Wednesday to contribute specific resources to the effort, which was dubbed operation “Enduring Freedom” by the White House.
Britain will offer the use of its base at Diego Garcia, reconnaissance and other aircraft and missile-firing submarines, some of which were used Sunday.
Blair made clear the importance of wiping out the funding for terrorist networks, hinting his country and the United States would likely strike valuable poppy fields central to the Taliban’s lucrative heroin trade.
As much as 90 percent of all heroin sold on British streets comes from Afghanistan, he said.
“Stopping that trade is, again, directly in our interest,” he said.
Even as the United States launched bombs on Afghanistan, Bush said the government would follow up with humanitarian aid to refugees exiled by the Taliban.
“At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies,” Bush 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.”
Both leaders were unified in their remarks that the campaign against terrorism is not a campaign against Islam.
Bush called bin Laden and his associates “barbaric criminals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name.”
The military response is the first of its kind since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Since extremists hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers, the government has focused its attention on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
In his seven-minute address, Bush speculated that ground troops would be a vital element in the war on terrorism.
“A commander in chief sends America’s sons and daughters into battle in a foreign land only after the greatest care and a lot of prayer,” Bush said.
While the government is tight-lipped about its plans, experts said ground troops would likely be used to gain intelligence and strategically intercept al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds.
Bush encouraged Americans to be strong and confident in their government. He said the country is prepared with “every tool” to wage war against terrorism.
“The battle is now joined on many fronts,” he said. “We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”