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Wolfowitz: 'Terrific Progress' Made in Afghanistan

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2002 – The U.S. military campaign against terrorists in Afghanistan has achieved many of its objectives, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said here today.

"I think we've made terrific progress. It's quite impressive," Wolfowitz observed at a news conference in the National Press Club. American and coalition military operations in Afghanistan -- Operation Enduring Freedom -- began last October. Wolfowitz praised the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, and his staff, noting they "put together a plan out of nothing" in a few weeks. Following that plan, U.S. and coalition troops liberated the city of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan in five or six weeks, Wolfowitz said. "It's testimony to what our men and women in uniform can do -- it's incredible," the deputy defense secretary said.

The Taliban have been removed from power and Afghanistan has been essentially eliminated as an operating base for terrorists, he noted. While terrorists are still in and around Afghanistan, Wolfowitz pointed out, "they're not able to plan or organize or do very much."

In addition, he said, Afghanistan has been made more hospitable for a better government to take root.

More work needs to be accomplished, Wolfowitz said, noting that pockets of hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda remain in the region. He emphasized that U.S. government officials are working to ensure that America doesn't end up leaving only to have the Taliban regain power in Afghanistan.

Assisting the Afghans in establishing a democratic government "is a big challenge," Wolfowitz said. The "pretty wild" country has never had a strong, centralized government, he said. Methods used to establish and maintain peace and stability in Bosnia or Kosovo, he added, most likely wouldn't work in Afghanistan.

Although he thinks U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan "for a while," Wolfowitz is heartened by the progress made so far.

"I think we've accomplished a lot already," he said.

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