Rumsfeld Salutes Troops, Meets Afghan Leaders
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Apr. 27, 2002 "Afghanistan is a proving ground for the global war on terrorism," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told American and coalition troops here today.
"The world is determined to stop the tyranny of terrorism," he said in a short address to troops in a hangar at this Afghan base. "It's going to take a great coalition of many countries working together, as each of you are."
Rumsfeld arrived here this morning aboard a C-17 transport plane after an early meeting with officials in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Afghanistan is his second stop in a five-day trip to Central Asia. He came to thank U.S. and coalition forces for the jobs they are doing for freedom. The secretary said he was delighted to be back, "in free Afghanistan."
This was his second visit to the former terrorist haven. He first traveled to Afghanistan in December when he met with about 100 U.S. troops deployed here. Today, around 6,000 American personnel are deployed in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has been the first theater in the war on terrorism, "but it won't be the last," Rumsfeld told the troops. "It is a place where you are setting an example of how this battle has to be conducted."
Each member of the coalition in Afghanistan has been "commissioned by history" to play a key part in a momentous mission, he said. "It's dangerous, it's difficult, and the American people know it, and the coalition countries know it. They know it because they see it on television, and they see some of your comrades coming home dead and wounded."
Operation Enduring Freedom's success, he noted, is evidenced by the fact that the interim government has taken over and has been able to rebuild some police forces, border guards and the beginnings of a national army. Tensions between the various factions in the country have calmed down, people have been able to raise taxes, provide services and conduct school.
"The coalition stands on the front line between freedom and fear," Rumsfeld stressed. "You stand against an evil that cannot be appeased, it cannot be ignored, and it certainly must be defeated."
The secretary told the troops he's proud and grateful for the magnificent job they've done. "And I know your families are proud and grateful," he added. "They worry about you. When this war is won -- and it will be won -- you'll be able to say 'I fought in Afghanistan against terrorism' and you'll be remembered," Rumsfeld concluded.
From Bagram, Rumsfeld traveled via CH-47 helicopter to Kabul and met with interim authority chairman Hamid Karzai, Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim Khan and other government officials. Returning to Bagram a few hours later, the secretary boarded an MC-130 for a flight to Herat, less than 50 miles from the border with Iran.
At Herat, several hundred mujahedin soldiers lined the runway along with a mix of U.S. Special Forces and other security officials. With a full moon lighting the sky over the plain, Governor Ismail Khan welcomed the secretary. He and Rumsfeld trooped the line past a military band and the armed Afghan fighters.
Rumsfeld, Khan and their staffs went into a terminal where they met for nearly an hour. Emerging from the meeting, a defense official told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld that Khan had agreed to support a national army and that he thought it could work.
The secretary then took off for Turkmenistan, the next leg of his journey.