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Spring Thaw Likely to Spark Attacks in Afghanistan

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SHANNON, Ireland, April 26, 2002 – The spring thaw in Afghanistan may mean more al Qaeda and Taliban attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday on his way to Central Asia.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (center) talks with reporters April 25, 2002, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-32 bound for Central Asia. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"My guess is that as the weather improves, and as they find ways to communicate with each other, that they will probably again try to attack the interim authority and opposing factions in the country, as well as U.S. and coalition forces," the secretary said. The terrorists will try to "create an environment that is inhospitable for everyone except themselves," he told 12 reporters traveling with him.

Rumsfeld left Washington Thursday afternoon on his third trip to Central Asia since the United States launched military operations in October against the al Qaeda terrorist network and Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

His current five-day itinerary includes a stop in Afghanistan where he'll meet with leaders and visit some of the 6,000 U.S. service members in the country.

U.S. and coalition forces, Rumsfeld noted, are working with the Afghan interim authority to restore and maintain stability. The Germans, for example, are working with the Afghan government police forces to develop Afghanistan's border patrol. U.S. and coalition partners are also beginning to work with the Afghan national army.

U.S. and coalition forces are also providing security at a number of spots around the country and U.S. personnel are embedded with friendly Afghan forces. "All of which contributes to a more secure environment," he said, "an environment where the people can start going to school and humanitarian workers can come in and start helping people that have real needs."

Rumsfeld said U.S. and coalition forces are making progress. "They are continuing to detain people, arrest people, apprehend people almost every day in small number," he said. "They're continuing to look for larger groups, and my impression is that the al Qaeda and Taliban are avoiding -- for the time being at least -- concentrating themselves in larger groups."

Rumsfeld plans to meet throughout the trip with both U.S. and coalition forces in the countries he visits. He wants to thank the American troops for the "truly superb job they are doing."

He said he will also meet with allied troops. "I will undoubtedly, be spending almost as much time with coalition forces as I do with U.S. forces as part of this trip, expressing our country's appreciation to them as well."

He will also visit several countries on Afghanistan's periphery. Relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbors are "one of the determinants of security and circumstance -- its economic health and its government liability," he said.

It's important for the United States to be interested in Afghanistan and its neighbors, Rumsfeld stressed, since the United States is deeply involved in removing terrorists from Afghanistan and ensuring that the country doesn't again become a terrorist haven. "That is basically the reason for my trip," the secretary said.

"We, needless to say, prefer to be arranged in ways that give us more options rather than fewer options," he explained. "We therefore have activities in a number of the neighboring countries, as well as within (Afghanistan). Our basic interest is to have the ability to go into a country and have a relationship and have understandings about our ability to land or over fly and do things that are of mutual benefit."

The United States has no plans to establish permanent bases in these countries, he said, nor have defense officials decided how long they would "want to keep an airplane or another capability in a specific country."

Rumsfeld would not discuss press reports that U.S. forces are operating in Pakistan, assisting in the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. "We do not characterize what other countries are doing or what we're doing in other countries," he said. "We leave that to those countries."

From the outset, however, the secretary pointed out, Pakistan has been "enormously helpful and cooperative in the global war on terrorism." U.S. and Pakistan government agencies, he said, "coordinated in ways that led to the apprehension of some 50 or 60 people in 11 or so different sites in Pakistan." Those apprehended included terrorist leader Abu Zubaydah who was later turned over to U.S. authorities.

Prior to returning to Washington Monday night (April 29), Rumsfeld is also slated to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov in Moscow.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Transcript: Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Ireland, April 25, 2002


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