Rumsfeld, Myers Give Update on U.S. Anti-Terror War Effort
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2002 In his first news conference of 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today there is a lot left to do in Afghanistan, and the war on terrorism will be pursued wherever it leads.
Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told Pentagon reporters that Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees under U.S. control would be shipped to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as soon as facilities are ready. U.S. forces currently hold 248 detainees 225 in Kandahar, 14 at Bagram air base, eight aboard the USS Bataan and one in Mazar-e Sharif.
In the operations in Afghanistan, U.S. personnel continue to try to find the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Myers said that as the search continues, personnel have found intelligence in various pockets "some of which has been fruitful in stopping terrorist acts around the world." Security concerns stopped Myers from giving any specifics.
Myers also said that the United States would close Camp Rhino the forward base Marines established in southern Afghanistan in November. The former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar will become the hub of U.S. activity in the southern region.
The chairman said Navy and Air Force aircraft struck an Al Qaeda leadership compound in the province of Khost Jan. 3. He said the base camp also contained training facilities and some caves. B-1 bombers, F-18 aircraft and AC-130 gunships struck the compound. It was the same area struck in 1998 following the Al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. "It's a place Al Qaeda goes to regroup," Myers said.
Rumsfeld spoke to criticism that not capturing Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar or Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden reflects badly on the United States. "The Taliban rule has ended," he said. "That's a good thing for the people of Afghanistan and a good thing for the people of the world that that country is no longer harboring terrorists."
Omar and bin Laden are fugitives and while it remains a U.S. goal to bring these men to justice, as they are running it is more difficult for them to plan or execute more terrorist acts, Rumsfeld said.
"One has to appreciate the difficulty of tracking down a single human being anywhere," he said. He pointed to the difficulty the FBI has in tracking down those listed on its "10 Most Wanted" list.
Rumsfeld also said the United States would not be part of any deal that allows terrorists who should be punished to go free. "We will accept surrender," Rumsfeld said. "These people have killed a lot of people. They deserve to be out of there, they deserve to be punished. That is what we're there to do." He said the interim Afghan government knows the U.S. position on this question and that the two governments "are on the same sheet of music."
In the year ahead, Rumsfeld anticipates sitting down with coalition partners to discuss how to deal with terror groups operating in locations around the globe. Al Qaeda alone has cells in more than 60 countries, U.S. officials said. Finding ways to eliminate these cells will take cooperation, patience and commitment from these countries, Rumsfeld said.