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Rumsfeld Visits Afghanistan, Meets With U.S. Troops

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2001 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met with U.S. troops and Afghan leaders during a visit to this former Soviet base, Dec. 16.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addresses Army and Air Force troops working at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Rumsfeld flew into the base Dec. 16 to meet with Afghan leaders and to talk to American forces in the country. Photo by Jim Garamone.

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Rumsfeld met with soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, other soldiers providing logistics and Air Force personnel who are manning the "bare bones" base. He also met with Hamid Karsai, the Afghan leader who will be the interim prime minister of the country, and Fahim Kahn who will be the defense minister in the new government. The meetings were held in a bombed out hanger on the base.

Rumsfeld said his talks with the Afghan leaders went well and that Karsai was very appreciative of the United States. Rumsfeld related that Karsai said the United States gave Afghan opposition forces "the opportunity that we wanted to liberate ourselves for a second time." The first time was the mujahedin victory over the Soviet Union in 1989.

Rumsfeld told Karsai the United States would continue to support the opposition forces and that the United States had no territorial designs on Afghanistan. "The United States has done very well so far," said Imran, a Karsai aid. "The (American servicemen) who serve with our forces know our culture and respect it. The fighters here are few and also respect the people."

He contrasted the small U.S. footprint in Afghanistan to the Soviet occupation. "They were everywhere," he said of the Soviets. "You (are) doing this right," he told the American contingent.

All of the men who accompanied Karsai or Khan carried weapons of some sort, including one man who waited outside the meeting carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.

Rumsfeld said the meetings with the Afghan leaders were important. He said they allowed Karsai to understand what President Bush and Rumsfeld are thinking, and gave Rumsfeld a chance to size up Karsai.

Rumsfeld toured the base and then held a "town hall meeting" with U.S. service members. He said the military services would undoubtedly establish some sort of rotation policy for duty in Afghanistan.

The United States will not leave until the mission is accomplished, he said. The secretary told service members the mission will be finished in Afghanistan when the Taliban leadership is killed or captured, the Al Qaeda leaders and all their fighters are killed or captured, and the country is no longer a training ground for terror groups.

Rumsfeld answered a couple of questions on the proposed security force for Kabul. He said the force will not be a United Nations peacekeeping force, but will work under a U.N. mandate. The United Kingdom would lead the force with help from Turkey and Germany, Rumsfeld said. "It will be no more than 3,000 to 5,000 (service members)," he said. "It is only to be based in Kabul, but there is talk of expanding it to other cities."

The United States will not participate in the main body of the peacekeeping force. Rumsfeld said the United States would provide intelligence and airlift for the effort and will provide a quick reaction force that can be used if needed.

Rumsfeld told the troops he was grateful for their service. "Every day I've watched what's going on in this country and what you folks are doing with great pride at the skill, the training, the discipline and the dedication that you all bring to what you are doing," he said.

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Secretary Rumsfeld with U.S. Troops at Bagram, Dec. 16, 2001

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks with Afghan and American reporters after landing at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Dec. 16. Photo by Jim Garamone.  
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