Leaders Emphasize Campaign Is Against Terror, Not Afghan People
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 4, 2001 Pakistani and U.S. leaders worked together today to dispel the notion that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan is aimed at killing civilians.
"Never in history has so much care been taken as at present by the United States to reduce civilian casualties to the minimum possible," Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar said during a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The secretary had just met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and characterized the meeting as "an exchange of information and views."
Rumsfeld said it is always "a shock" to turn on the television and "see a banner or hear a voice saying that the United States is bombing Kabul or bombing Kandahar." "That is not true," he said.
He said a lot of ordnance has been fired in Afghanistan because the United States is aggressively hunting the Taliban and Al Qaeda military forces. But planners carefully select military targets with an eye toward preventing civilian casualties, he said, though acknowledging that unintended damage does occur.
While some damage may be caused by errant bombs, he said, the cause is more likely Taliban shooting at U.S. aircraft or at opposition groups. "It is not always exactly clear what caused the damage," he said.
He said the United States only bombs military targets, "except when they are in close proximity to very densely populated residential areas." The Taliban and Al Qaeda recognize this, Rumsfeld said -- that's why they use mosques as ammunition supply points and command and control meeting areas and place tanks and artillery pieces near hospitals, schools and residential areas.
Rumsfeld said he believes this practice of using civilian areas as a shield is a measure of the success of the campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He said the Taliban is not making any major military moves.
"They are pretty much in a static position," he said.
Reporters questioned Rumsfeld and Sattar about calls by Musharraf and leaders of other Muslim countries for a quick end to the campaign, preferably before the holy month of Ramadan begins Nov. 16.
Sattar said Musharraf said that the military campaign should "be reduced to as short a time as possible, consistent with the realization of the objectives."
Rumsfeld said the United States agrees with this idea. He said the U.S. government and anti-terrorism coalition have no intent to extend the war longer than necessary. "We need to do what needs to be done," he said.
The leaders also spoke about the continuing humanitarian mission to aid Afghanistan's refugees. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Tajikistan. Many more are 'displaced' in the country. Rumsfeld said the United States is well aware of the plight of the Afghan people and has already announced plans to alleviate some of their suffering.
He said the United States was the world's largest food donor to Afghanistan even before Sept. 11. Since then, President Bush has tripled the resources aimed at alleviating the humanitarian crisis.
The leaders also discussed the safeguarding of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, events in Kashmir and relations with India.
Rumsfeld has had a whirlwind tour of the area. He left Washington on Nov. 2 and flew to Moscow. The next day, he met with Russian leaders, flew to Tajikistan to meet President Emomali Rahmonov and then continued on to Uzbekistan to meet President Islom Karimov. After his meetings here, he is to fly to New Delhi, India, to meet with Defense Minister George Fernandes before heading back to Washington Nov. 5.
The flight from Uzbekistan to Pakistan, in an Air Force C-17 transport aircraft, went over a portion of Afghanistan. Rumsfeld looked out one of the small portholes at the mountainous country. "I wouldn't want to be marching around long down there," he said.