WASHINGTON – Maryland legislators said that the state of America’s war on terrorism looks promising, after they received a classified update on the situation Wednesday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
But they also agreed that this is not the time to relax.
“I am confident America is winning and will win the war on terrorism,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, who called the closed House meeting “the best briefing we’ve had on the war on terrorism since the tragedy on Sept. 11.”
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, agreed that efforts to stop terrorism are progressing, though he said Americans should be prepared for a five-year war in Afghanistan.
“I think the public can rest assured that there’s as much concentration as appropriate on the war on terrorism,” Bartlett said. “The best evidence that we’re doing an effective job is that there have been no further attacks.”
Smiling and giving autographs, Rumsfeld said after the briefing that changes to the “unified command plan” announced Wednesday would step up the government’s focus on the military side of the war on terrorism.
The Defense Department said the new U.S. Northern Command, which will begin operations on Oct. 1, will combine defense of all of North America, including Canada, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean, under one command. Besides cooperation with Canada and Mexico, the Northern Command will also be responsible for “the full range of military assistance to civil authorities,” according to a Pentagon statement.
Wednesday’s closed-door session was the latest in an irregular series of briefings for the full House since Sept. 11. At least three Maryland lawmakers – – Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, and Democratic Reps. Albert Wynn of Largo and Steny Hoyer of Mechanicsville — decided to skip the hour-long House gathering, citing prior commitments.
Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said he had been briefed earlier in the day by Homeland Security director Tom Ridge and opted to attend a press event with the University of Maryland basketball team instead of the Rumsfeld briefing.
The secretary addressed reports that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may have eluded U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but Gilchrest said it is important to remember that “the United States is not focused on hunting down one lone maniac.”
The congressman said this latest report on terrorism and security was more than a spate of optimistic projections, and included reports “extraordinary potential events that give us great apprehension.”
“There are other dangerous journeys that we face. Iraq, for example, is a very dangerous place,” Gilchrest said. “They are fraught with very intelligent, fanatical, mean people that continue to develop weapons of mass destruction. The situation between Israel and Palestine is still very volatile. While we’ve been very successful, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“We can’t sit back and say, `Well, we can relent a little,'” he said. “We can’t relent.” — CNS reporters Shannon Canton, Stephen Chapman, Candia Dames, Michelle Krupa and Laura Said contributed to this report.