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The Pentagon ordered dozens of advanced aircraft to the Persian Gulf region Wednesday as the hour of military retaliation for deadly terrorist attacks drew closer.

President Bush, meanwhile, announced he would address a joint session of Congress tonight to prepare the nation and the world for the difficulties ahead in the war against terrorism.

In the nationally televised speech, set for 9 p.m. EDT, Bush will make the case against No. 1 suspect Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network, officials said.

"I look forward to the opportunity to explain to the American people who would do this to our great country and why," Bush said.

Officials said Bush will not ask Congress to declare war in his speech, and they also cautioned against expecting the president to specify when military retaliation will occur. "This is not a speech to announce military action," said Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of Islamic clerics called on bin Laden to leave the country voluntarily but gave no indication they would support handing him over to the United States. The clerics had been convened by the military rulers of Afghanistan to consider U.S. demands for bin Laden's extradition.

They said they were prepared to call for a holy war against the United States if U.S. troops attack Afghanistan in an attempt to capture bin Laden, a Saudi exile.

The White House rejected the clerics' proposal to let bin Laden leave voluntarily. The proposal "does not meet America's requirements," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "It's time for action and not words."

Meanwhile, Army Secretary Thomas W. White said the military was bracing for "sustained land combat operations."

White told reporters a deployment order signed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld includes Army troops as well as Air Force personnel.

He said it was only the first step in a broader military plan that would unfold in the weeks ahead.

"A lot more will come," he said.

The Air Force has been ordered to send 100 to 130 aircraft to the Persian Gulf area, a senior defense official said today. They include fighters and B-52 bombers as well as tanker aircraft to be positioned along an "air bridge" to refuel the combat planes.

In addition, an aircraft carrier left Virginia en route to joining two other carriers in the region.

At a noontime news conference, Rumsfeld told reporters he would not make public any details about the deployment.

"We are trying to get ourselves arranged in the world, with our forces, in places that we believe conceivably could be useful in the event the president decided to use them," Rumsfeld said.

He also said the administration was reconsidering the name initially given to the military deployment, "Operation Infinite Justice," because in the Islamic faith only Allah can provide infinite justice.

White declined to say which Army forces are included in the initial deployment, but he made clear that his service is gearing up for a lengthy war.

"We are ready to conduct sustained land combat operations as determined by the secretary of defense and the president," White said. "We are ready to deliver it across the whole array of force structure -- heavy, light, airmobile, airborne, special operations."

Bush spent part of his day Wednesday meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the economy, weak before the attacks and buffeted by thousands of layoffs in the airline industry and elsewhere in the eight days since.

He also devoted some of the day to diplomacy, beckoning all countries around the globe to contribute, some openly, some secretly, to "the long campaign" against terrorism."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that Russia would not object if the United States sought to enlist former Soviet republics in Central Asia for the campaign against bin Laden despite some recent opposition from leaders in Moscow, according to a senior State Department official. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan could provide important bases and logistical support for any military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

Increasingly, administration officials said their investigation was pointing to bin Laden as their man and made it clear that military retaliation against his al-Qaida terrorist network and nations that harbor it was only a matter of time. "I have no doubt that military power is part of" the government's response, Rice told reporters.

Earlier today, Rumsfeld declined to rule out Iraq as a target of the anti-terrorism campaign.

"There are a number of nations that are on the official, public list of terrorist nations -- nations that have either sponsored terrorism or been involved in it -- and we know that a number of those countries are in the Middle East," he said on NBC's "Today."

But it is up to Bush to decide what targets will be attacked, Rumsfeld said.

Administration officials have offered little information on the timing or scope of their planned military retaliation. But the issue was very much in evidence during the day in Norfolk, Va., where the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt departed on a previously scheduled mission to the Mediterranean.

A band played "New York, New York" as the mighty ship left port. "This is a scheduled deployment, but it is by no means routine," said Rear Adm. Mark Fitzgerald. "The events of the last week have renewed our sense of determination and our focus." Navy officials declined to say whether the attacks had changed the orders of either the aircraft carrier or the rest of its battle group.

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