Still Plenty of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld Says
By Jim Garamone and Linda Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 17, 2001 Opposition forces aided by U.S. and British special operations forces are still battling Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.
While not as intense as previous days combat, fighting continues around the mountain range running from Kabul to the Pakistani border. The Tora Bora tunnel and cave complex is built into that range.
"The fact of the matter is … there are still plenty of Al Qaeda loose in that country," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him to NATO meetings here. "That is why we are there; that is why we are chasing them; that is why we are bombing; (and) that is why we are working with Afghan forces to root them out of tunnels."
Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies are on the run, and the Taliban is no longer a viable government, Rumsfeld said. "It too is in a state of disarray, and they are running and hiding," he said of the Taliban.
The secretary cautioned that there are still a lot of armed Taliban forces in Afghanistan. "It is going to take a lot of time and energy and effort," Rumsfeld said, "and people will be killed in the process of trying to find them and capture them and have them surrender."
Rumsfeld said 30 or 31 Al Qaeda fighters have been captured around Tora Bora. U.S. special operations forces are working with opposition troops to search out and find live terrorists and determine who has been killed in the fighting.
"Until (U.S. and opposition forces) get a chance to interview them, interrogate them, sort them out and see who they are, it's hard to find out what their level of seniority was in those activities," he said of the captured Al Qaeda fighters. "In these latest groups, I don't have any names or serial numbers yet."
Rumsfeld said there is a question mark about Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's location. "There are people who continue to speculate that he may be in (the Tora Bora area) or may have been in that area, or that he may be somewhere else," he said.
Rumsfeld said his visit to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan Dec. 16 reminded him of some of the bombed out areas of Lebanon in the early 1980s. "It's a sad thing to see a country that is that destroyed," Rumsfeld said. "All their infrastructure is in such bad shape. It is going to take a good chunk of time to create a livable situation there."
In other news, John Walker, the U.S. citizen found among Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, remains on the USS Peleliu, Richard L. McGraw, a DoD spokesman, told reporters in the Pentagon this morning. Another four detainees, one Australian and three others whose nationality was unavailable, arrived on the Pelelieu on Dec. 15.
U.S. forces delivered humanitarian aid to the Kunduz area of Afghanistan, McGraw said. The aid included blankets, humanitarian daily rations, wheat and dates. Dates are traditionally part of the Muslim feasting celebrating the end of Ramadan.
McGraw also said U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets in the Tora Bora area. Military officials have produced a variety of leaflets advertising the $25 million reward for Osama bin Laden, publicizing the amount of humanitarian aid the United States has provided, and extending a hand of friendship to the Afghan people.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's trip to Turkey this week was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts. Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith will go in his stead. Rumsfeld is scheduled to return to Washington Dec. 19.