WASHINGTON - President Bush is observing the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Thursday at a time when he's having to dispatch more U.S. troops to fight rising violence in Afghanistan, the launch site for al-Qaida's assault on America.
Every year since the attacks, Bush has stood in a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House to remember the nearly 3,000 people who died when terrorists crashed hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa.
Later Thursday, he was to head to the Pentagon to dedicate a memorial that has 184 benches over small reflecting pools, representing each life lost when American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the symbol of U.S. military might on that clear and sunny September morning.
The moment of silence at the White House will occur at 8:46 a.m. — the exact time that terrorists slammed the first of two jetliners into the World Trade Center. The Pentagon was struck about an hour later. Joining the president will be first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, members of Congress, Cabinet members, military officials and about 3,000 White House employees and guests.
The Pentagon ceremony will include a wreath laying, music and a reading of the names of the 184 who died on Flight 77 and inside the building. The Pentagon Memorial was built at a cost of $22 million on a 1.9-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Pentagon and within view of the crash site.
"The president thinks about 9/11 every single day when he wakes up and before he goes to bed," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday. "This is what he's concerned about. He's always been concerned about another attack on our country. Thankfully, we haven't had one."
Barack Obama and John McCain, the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, respectively, will appear together at ground zero in New York on Thursday to honor the memory of those who died. The campaigns agreed to halt television advertising critical of each other for the day.
Bush announced this week that he was sending a Marine battalion to Afghanistan in November and an Army brigade there by January. U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they need another 10,000 troops — about three times as many as they will receive this winter under the troop deployment plan Bush announced. The commanders also urge more nonmilitary aid and say the Afghan government must perform better.