WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 -- President George W. Bush on Wednesday described as "acts of war" the suicide hijacking attacks on New York and Washington, where administration officials said the White House was one of the targets and revealed a separate but related plot to strike Air Force One.
"The deliberate and deadly attacks, which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror; they were acts of acts of war," Bush said after a morning meeting with the White House national security team.
"This will require our nation to unite in steadfast determination and resolve," Bush said as he sat in the Cabinet Room flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton, Attorney General John Ashcroft, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other top White House aides.
Bush said "freedom and democracy are under attack," adding that the United States confronted a "different enemy than we have ever faced" in the terrorist organizations believed to be behind the attacks.
"This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people then runs for cover," Bush said. "But it won't be able to run for cover forever."
Bush went on to say: "The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy. We will rally the world. We will be patient, we will be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination. This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it, we will win."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush was trying to galvanize an international anti-terrorism coalition and had telephoned British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian President Vladimir Putin (twice) and Chinese President Ziang Zemin.
Bush also asked Congress for spending authority to allot "whatever it takes" to deal with the aftermath of the attacks, and lawmakers scheduled a vote on an emergency spending measure for Thursday. Separately, legislators began debating the idea of offering some sort of war declaration that would give Bush a freer to use the military to fight terrorist organizations than is allowed by law in peacetime.
Bush met with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Republican leadership from the House and Senate shortly after he sat for the first of two security briefings for the day.
Daschle vowed to "work with the administration to allocate the resources and to dedicate whatever strategy may be required to fulfill our obligations. It is our strong desire to do this not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. And we will continue to demonstrate that desire as we consider whatever other actions may be required in days ahead."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said, "We are in complete agreement that we will work together, that we want to share information, that we will be ready to move on whatever the president suggests."
On Tuesday, hijackers commandeered four airliners to use as fuel-laden bombs on targets in New York City and the capital. In lower Manhattan, jetliners slammed the World Trade Center's landmark twin towers, toppling both. A third ripped through a wall at the Pentagon, where rubble still smoldered more than 24 hours later. The fourth jet crashed in western Pennsylvania.
The White House grounds and Air Force One were also under threat, Fleischer said.
When the attacks came on Tuesday morning, Bush was in Florida, where upon news of the strikes he flew aboard Air Force One to a secure military base in Louisiana and then to another instillation in Nebraska before returning to the White House in the evening.
"We have real and credible information that the airplane that landed at the Pentagon was originally intended to hit the White House," Fleischer said, refusing to elaborate on the information administration authorities had about the plane's final moments.
Fleischer said he had no knowledge of the intended target of the airliner downed in Pennsylvania, dampening speculation that hijackers meant to fly that plane into midair collision with Air Force One.
Another White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the threat to Air Force One was unrelated to the hijacked airliners. The official refused to say what the threat was, acknowledging only that terrorists planned to strike Air Force One somehow in addition to hijacking the airliners.
Authorities have yet to offer an overall death toll from the crashes, but the number of dead was expected to surpass the body count at Pearl Harbor, where some 2,800 people died on Dec. 7, 1941 in Japanese airstrikes.
Bush toured the damage at the Pentagon late in the day to offer a public thanks to workers there and at the ruins of the World Trade Center.
"Coming here makes me sad," Bush said. "On the one hand, it also makes me angry."
Bush was expected to declare the Pentagon a disaster area in a written statement Wednesday evening.