U.S. Considers Moves to Aid Long-term Afghan Stability
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2002 Combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban government that provided safe haven for the terrorists is just the first step in ending the long-term strife in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.
Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press and CBS's Face the Nation, Rumsfeld said U.S. as well as U.N. officials and coalition partners are considering how to help the Afghan people create lasting peace, stability and security.
The interim government led by Hamid Karzai, he said, wants to create a national military force that will provide that security. An alternative would be to expand the International Security Assistance Force led by the British that is patrolling the Afghan capital of Kabul.
"The Pentagon currently has an assessment team that's going to make a report to me on how long they think it would take for the Karzai government to develop a national force, what it would cost, and who could assist with the training," Rumsfeld said. "We have a big interest in seeing that we're able to give them a good start toward having a secure and stable situation."
The secretary also said U.S. defense officials have not seen any hard evidence in recent weeks that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is alive. "If he's alive, he's very busy hiding and he is having a dickens of a time communicating with his people," Rumsfeld.
The real test, he said, is whether Bin Laden is able to effectively manage the Al Qaeda network and engage in more terrorist acts. "Is he leading (Al Qaeda)? Is he raising additional money? Is he the power and force in recruiting more people? The short answer is, 'No,'" Rumsfeld said.
In fact, Rumsfeld said, if more Al Qaeda terrorist attacks occur, most likely previously placed cells would commit them.
Asked about finding Bin Laden, Rumsfeld said U.S. officials knew finding the Al Qaeda leader would be a difficult task. He noted that the Defense Department is not generally in the business of finding individuals.
"We're really organized, trained and equipped to fight armies and navies and air forces," he said. "We're not organized to do manhunts. That's a law enforcement task."
Defense officials see much intelligence information, speculation and theories about Bin Laden's status, Rumsfeld said. "We're hard at it," he said. "We'll keep at it until we find him."
While Al Qaeda are on the run in Afghanistan, suggesting that the terrorist network is defeated "would be wrong," he said. "Thousands and thousands" of people were trained in Afghanistan to engage in terrorist acts around the world.
Rumsfeld said the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is an example of how well organized the terrorists are. "We saw a well-planned, well- executed taking of a hostage and the use of television to dramatize it," he said.
"Just as my heart goes out to the families and friends of the 10 service men who died in the (Feb. 22) helicopter crash in the Philippines, so too my heart goes out to his family and friends," the secretary said.