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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Behind the Scenes of America's Strikes

WASHINGTON -- On Friday morning in the White House situation room, President George W. Bush turned to General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and asked, "Dick, is Tommy Franks ready to go?"

He was referring to the crusty army general who commands the American military in the Middle East and South Asia, and who was rapidly assembling forces for war in Afghanistan.

Assured that Franks was prepared to strike, the president said, "All right, then we're ready to go," according to the first detailed account of the past few days provided by White House officials.

A little more than 48 hours later, Franks' forces were in motion. And as the first bombs and missiles began reaching their targets in Kabul, Bush was having a late lunch with his senior staff members in the Roosevelt Room, just down the hall from the Oval Office.

After days of frenzy at the White House, there was a strange calm.

"What do we do now?" Karen Hughes, one of the president's closest confidantes, recalls asking.

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, answered first. "Now we wait," she said.

As Rice recalled Monday: "Once the operation starts to unfold, it's unfolding. And you are not participating in its unfolding."

The events leading to Sunday's air strikes that Rice and Hughes detailed gave the first glimpse of a new president and his staff coping with an enormously complex military operation that came together in less than three weeks.

They described the rapid-fire activities of Oct. 2, when Bush was alternating public appearances -- including one announcing the reopening of Reagan National Airport -- with the decision-making meetings that led to the opening of hostilities in Afghanistan on Sunday.

The 48 hours leading up to the strikes, they said, were both tense and somber. Bush, linked to his national security staff by teleconference from Camp David, asked for one last review of the details Saturday morning before he ordered the dispatch of B-2 bombers from Missouri to their Afghan targets.

The account provided to reporters in a small auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Monday was as notable for what it left out. There was no talk of arguments among the staff, no discussion of the military options that Bush rejected, and no hint that any of Washington's coalition partners raised a word of objection about anything. It cast all the participants in the most flattering light possible.

"It's fair to say," one adviser involved in the discussions said, "that a few arguments were left out of the public accounting."

But there were a few notable facts. Bush, according to Hughes, decided early on he wanted the bombing runs immediately followed by food drops.

"I want to make sure that the humanitarian piece is in place when we start military operations," Hughes quoted him as saying.

Rice said that the president made the decision to move toward military action on Sept. 17, six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, determining that he would focus first on Afghanistan, and worry about terrorist operations elsewhere later.

As that broad strategy gave way to military options, Bush made two key decisions: the first strike would be financial, and military action would coincide with food drops to underline his point that he was at war with terrorists, not the Afghan people.

"I know that there's an image that you sit there watching things plot on a map," Rice said. "You, of course, don't."

Hughes added later: "There really was nothing for us to do at that moment. It was mainly wait."