LEXINGTON, Va. – President Bush said Wednesday that he expects terrorist activity to heat up with the temperatures this spring, but he assured Americans that U.S. forces will "defeat the threats against our country and the civilized world."
"As the spring thaw comes, we expect cells of trained killers to try to regroup, to murder, to create mayhem and try to undermine Afghanistan's efforts to build a lasting peace," the president said.
Bush made the remarks during a speech to cadets at Virginia Military Institute that was meant to update the public on the progress of the war against terrorism and to convince people that military success was on the horizon, despite the inability of Secretary of State Colin Powell to broker peace with the Israelis and Palestinians and a recent report that U.S. forces failed to kill Usama bin Laden.
Bush focused on what he called "day by day, terrorist by terrorist" progress and said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is part of his broader — and long — battle against terrorism.
"Every leader, every state must choose between two separate paths: the path of peace or the path of terror," Bush said of the leaders in the Mideast region.
Bush counted off the accomplishments in the first phase of the war in Afghanistan, where bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network and Taliban allies were rousted by U.S. military might.
"We're clearing minefields, we're rebuilding roads, we're improving medical care and we'll work to help Afghanistan develop an economy that can feed its people without feeding the world's demands for drugs," Bush said.
He also said that the Taliban government was only "the first regime to fall" in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Bush did not say what nation might be next, but the speech contained thinly veiled references to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as well as Iran and North Korea.
Bush said the second phase of the war will require a global response against any nation that harbors or helps terrorists. He renewed his pledge to take action against "outlaw regimes" that traffic in weapons of mass destruction and deal with terrorists.
Without a specific mention of Iraq, Iran or North Korea, Bush said: "These regimes constitute an axis of evil and the world must confront them."
He described the effort as one of personal and individual importance to people when he said, "America has a much greater purpose than just eliminating threats and containing resentment because we believe in the dignity and value of every individual. America seeks hope and opportunity for all people in all cultures."
But a new videotape surfaced in Qatar this week showing bin Laden alive and at work to terrorize Americans. It remains unclear when the tape was made, but serves as a vivid reminder that the Bush administration does not know where the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks is.
A White House official said the government's assumption is that bin Laden was present during December's fierce firefighting in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but escaped.
Bush focused instead on the one senior bin Laden lieutenant U.S. forces have nabbed, Abu Zubaydah, the third-ranking figure in the Al Qaeda terror network.
"He's not plotting and he's not planning any more. He's under lock and key; and we're going to give him some company. We're hunting down the killers one by one," Bush told thousands of cheering military cadets in formal dress uniforms.
Citing intelligence gathered from the laptop computers, maps and drawings seized as U.S. forces scoured Al Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan, Bush gave a chilling forecast of the potential for more attacks.
Despite signs of wavering by Arab partners, Bush proclaimed the international coalition behind his anti-terror efforts "strong and united and acting." Without naming Iraq, he renewed his determination to squash the threat of outlaw regimes in an "axis of evil."
The speech broke no new ground, and Bush looked tired. The loudest applause came when the president absolved cadets of minor offenses at school. Commanders in chief traditionally grant amnesty while visiting military schools.
Public approval of Bush's military campaign against bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and terrorist targets in Afghanistan remains very strong, along with the president's overall job approval rating, ranging from 75 percent to 80 percent.
Public opinion polls show far more mixed sentiment on the Middle East, where Americans strongly support Bush's recent steps to intervene and mediate peaceful settlement, but doubt they will be successful.
The most recent surveys found Americans just about evenly split on whether the Bush administration has a coherent and well-planned policy on the Middle East.
After the speech, Bush was returning to the White House to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on ways to prevent fighting along Lebanon's southern border with Israel from merging with the West Bank bloodshed into a wider Arab-Israeli war.
Advisers said his VMI speech, which made Bush the first president to visit the state university since 1964, was not meant to break new ground in the anti-terrorism campaign, only to sustain support for the long campaign by letting Americans know how it is going.
The president is likely to use a planned address at West Point for another such update in several weeks, said another White House aide.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.