Rumsfeld Says Much Achieved; Much Remains to Be Done
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 22, 2002 Nine months into the global war on terror, the nation remains closer to the beginning than to the end, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today at the Pentagon.
"Our goal is that Afghanistan not become a base for global terrorist networks again," Rumsfeld said. "That work is, of course, by no means complete. Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives are still at large, some in Afghanistan; others fled across the borders waiting for the opportunity to return."
Danger remains as evidenced by the recent attacks on U.S. forces in Kandahar and in Oruzgan Province, he said, and by the several firefights between Pakistani forces and al Qaeda. Coalition forces continue to search caves and to sweep for arms, intelligence and small pockets of terrorists.
In recent weeks, he noted, local Afghans have told U.S. and coalition forces where to find weapons caches, which are then either destroyed or turned over to the Afghan National Army.
To date, Rumsfeld noted, the campaign has caused fewer tragic losses of civilian life than any war in modern history. He said U.S. and coalition forces have gone to "extraordinary lengths not only to avoid civilian deaths but to save civilian lives."
"It's an unfortunate fact of war than inevitably innocent civilians are killed," he said. "This has been true throughout the history of warfare and it remains true even in this age of advanced technology and precision-guided munitions."
While much work remains to be done in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, the U.S.-led effort has accomplished much in reversing the tide of terrorism and restoring freedom to the Afghan people. Rumsfeld highlighted the transformation that's taken place in Afghanistan.
Nine months ago, he said, "it was a pariah state, a training ground for thousands of terrorists." Al Qaeda had free rein to plan and organize attacks and Taliban brutally repressed the Afghan people.
Today, Rumsfeld said, the Taliban are no longer in power and al Qaeda are on the run. "Together with coalition partners, we've rounded up some 600 terrorists in Afghanistan and many hundreds more worldwide," he said. "They're being interrogated. They're yielding information that is helping to prevent further violence and bloodshed."
The humanitarian crisis has been averted and the Afghan people have been liberated. The U.S. and coalition partners have delivered about 500,000 metric tons of food since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, enough to feed 7 million Afghans.
Last winter's dire predictions of humanitarian disaster never came to pass, Rumsfeld said, and Afghanistan is once again a free nation.
"Through the recent Loya Jirga process, the Afghan people have exercised their right of self determination," he said. "A new president has been chosen, a new cabinet has been sworn, a transitional government representative of the Afghan people has been established to lead the nation for the next two years."
U.S. officials are working with the new government to lay the foundation for long-term stability and to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist haven. The United States and 28 countries are supporting the creation of an Afghan national army. Demining teams from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Poland and Jordan are helping to clear land mines, although an enormous number remain.
U.S. military engineers and civil affairs teams have dug wells, built hospitals, repaired roads and rebuilt schools. Russia cleared out and rebuilt a tunnel on the main artery linking Kabul with the north, allowing transportation of food, medicine and supplies. Jordan built a hospital in Mazar-e Sharif that has treated 86,000 people, including 18,000 children.
"Perhaps the most important measure of progress is the flow of people," Rumsfeld said. Since January, many hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons have returned to their homes.
"When it comes to coalition efforts," he noted, "the Afghan people are voting with their feet. They're coming back to their homes, and indeed it is a vote of confidence in the progress that's being made in Afghanistan."
Rumsfeld said 70 nations are supporting the war on terrorism, and 35 have posted representatives at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
Some British and Canadian forces are rotating out of Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, while Turkey has increased its presence by sending about 1,400 troops to Kabul to lead the International Security Assistance Force. Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands will soon deploy F-16 fighters to Kyrgyzstan for air operations over Afghanistan.
Romania is deploying an infantry battalion and has offered a mountain infantry company, a nuclear, biological and chemical response company and four MiG-21 fighters. Slovakia will soon deploy an engineering unit.
"It's terribly important to keep in mind the breadth of this coalition effort," Rumsfeld said. "It is extremely broad and deep. A lot of work remains to be done, but even at this early stage in the war, the coalition can take a good deal of pride in the successes that they've achieved thus far as we renew our resolve to meet the challenges we face ahead."