Top U.S. defense officials are hinting military strikes against terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden and his supporters in Afghanistan are not imminent.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declines to discuss any timetables for military action that may currently be under consideration.
However Mr. Rumsfeld tells reporters at the Pentagon the Bush administration is taking a measured approach. "We're not leaping into this," he said. "We're moving into it in a measured way."
The outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the U.S. armed forces, General Henry Shelton, says American soldiers will be called upon "soon" to undertake anti-terrorist missions.
But appearing with the Defense Secretary, the four-star Army general stresses it is more than just a military operation. "Not overreacting and going out there with just the military, in my military opinion, is the right way to do it," he said.
The two men appeared at a Pentagon briefing at which they confirmed combat pilots are now operating under new rules of engagement which could, under certain circumstances, lead to the shooting down of civilian airliners that threaten U.S. cities or landmarks.
But General Shelton, who steps down as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the end of the month, stresses safeguards are in place to prevent any accidents and military pilots will be cautious. "The last thing in the world that one of them wants to do is engage a commercial aircraft," said General Shelton. "So don't get the impression that anyone is flying around out there with a loose trigger finger. That's not the case."
In another development, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has announced the creation of a new medal, the Defense of Freedom Medal, which will honor civilians working for the Pentagon who were killed or wounded in this month's terrorist attacks.
Uniformed members of the armed forces who were killed or injured will be awarded the traditional Purple Heart.
About 125 military and civilian Defense Department employees were killed or remain unaccounted for in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.