Afghan Military Situation Calm, But Could Change At Anytime
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 1, 2002 The military situation in Afghanistan is calm for the moment, but that could change, senior DoD officials said today.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters there's nothing significant to say regarding anti-terrorist military operations in Afghanistan. He said U.S., coalition and friendly Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan are continuing search operations for al Qaeda and Taliban troops.
"It is still dangerous (in Afghanistan)," said Pace, who was teamed with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at the press briefing. He said the current calm "could change at any time."
Successful military operations against al Qaeda and Taliban forces have made Afghanistan safer for returning Afghan refugees and somewhat more stable for its interim government to take root, Rumsfeld noted.
However, the secretary cautioned that there are "still non- trivial numbers" of al Qaeda and Taliban forces hiding in Afghan villages and lurking in Pakistan just across the border from Afghanistan.
The situation in Afghanistan "is far from over," Rumsfeld noted. He declined to comment on reporters' questions regarding news reports about alleged U.S. and coalition troop movements in eastern Afghanistan.
"We don't talk about numbers of people," the defense secretary explained, noting, "It is helpful to the other side rather than to us to discuss how many of any category of people are involved in things. It seems to me I'd rather be helpful to our side than to their side."
Reporters asked, but Rumsfeld didn't say whether U.S. forces are or are not in Pakistan. He noted instead it would be up to Pakistani officials to discuss any military operations in their country.
U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces are engaged in a variety of operations in Afghanistan, to include area searches "to assure that the al Qaeda and the Taliban have not returned," Rumsfeld said. Other sweeps seek to pick up information on the whereabouts of remaining al Qaeda and Taliban forces, he said.
Rumsfeld said tunnels, cave complexes and "sensitive sites" suggested by intelligence reports as search candidates are also checked for terrorists, equipment or information.
U.S. and allied military activity is helping to maintain reasonable security in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, by seeking to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban troops from reassembling.
"They do have it in mind that they would like to return," Rumsfeld said, "and they do have it in mind they'd like to destabilize, and if possible, defeat, the interim Afghan authority. We know that and we expect that. It is not a surprise, and it's our task to see that that doesn't happen."