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Defense Leaders Cite Milestones in Terror War

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2004 – Defense leaders told Pentagon reporters today that recent milestones show solid evidence the coalition is making headway in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq and making progress in the war on terror.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Afghanistan's Loya Jirga's Jan. 4 agreement on a new, democratic constitution for the nation "represents a truly significant milestone in that country's path to a moderate, democratic society."

He said the new constitution "balances power between the branches of government, extends equal status to men and women, promotes tolerance, extends protections to minority groups and paves the way for national elections this summer."

The Loya Jirga began debate on the draft constitution Dec. 14. Rumsfeld said he was impressed by "seeing how they have taken to this process, compromised, discussed, voted, and stepped forward with a constitution that offers prospects for a future for that country that I think is historic."

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited today's transfer of authority from the coalition-led provincial reconstruction team at Konduz to NATO as another major milestone in Afghanistan.

The German-led PRT in Konduz is the first in Afghanistan to operate under NATO control, marking another milestone in planned expansion of the provincial reconstruction team program over the next several months.

Myers called the teams a critical element of the coalition's strategy of accelerating development and reconstruction, fostering long-term stability in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld called today's graduation of 705 recruits of the new Iraqi army's second battalion another step forward as the country assumes responsibility for its own security. The graduation ceremony was held today on National Army Day, a national holiday in Iraq that predates the former regime. More than 160,000 Iraqis now provide security in Iraq, making up the largest security force within the coalition, Rumsfeld said.

The latest graduates will assist the 1st Armored Division in and around Baghdad, and also will help to train new recruits of subsequent battalions, he added. The Iraqi army's first battalion already has graduated and is deployed, serving alongside coalition troops.

In addition, Myers said, the coalition has been increasingly successful at rounding up former regime elements and confiscating weapons caches.

"Terrorist networks worldwide have been damaged," Rumsfeld said. "More than 90 coalition nations in the global war on terror continue to track and hunt down and defeat terrorists before they strike."

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