Rumsfeld: Cleanup Under Way in Afghanistan
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 8, 2002 Operation Anaconda is an example of the "cleaning up" U.S., coalition and Afghan forces have to do in Afghanistan, according to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld talked about the battle under way in eastern Afghanistan and other military issues today during live interviews on Fox News and CNN. He said U.S. military officials don't know how many enemy fighters have been killed and any number of them are still holed-up in caves, tunnels and well-entrenched positions.
"They do have a very large cache of supplies and weapons and ammunition inside those caves and tunnels. So they're not without ammunition or food or water," he said. "They're well-supplied and well-disciplined.
These well-trained fighters are "hard dead-enders," Rumsfeld said. They've shown no indication of surrendering. U.S., coalition and Afghan forces, however, have them contained.
"The weather's terrible today, and so the level, the intensity of the battle has calmed down," Rumsfeld said. "We can still drop so-called GPS weapons, smart weapons, precision weapons. But in terms of actually flushing people out and then using things like the AC-130 (gunship planes) with 105 (mm) howitzers and 40 millimeters -- ... (we) can't do that."
Over the coming days, the secretary said, he expects Operation Anaconda to wind down.
"You can't know what's inside of those caves and tunnels until you physically get in there on the ground," he noted. "But it's going well. We've now pretty much completed the phase of taking the Taliban out of Afghanistan's government and putting the al Qaeda on the run. They're no longer capable of using Afghanistan as a safe haven and that's terribly important."
Once the cleanup operation is complete, the secretary said, the next step is to help the interim and successor governments provide a secure environment. A U.S. assessment team has returned from Afghanistan, he said, but U.S. leaders have not made a decision on what support the United States will contribute to that effort.
"We're working with the interim government. We're working with the ministry of defense there," Rumsfeld said. "We're now at the point where we're discussing what is the best way, the most cost-effective way to see that there's reasonable security in the country during the period that the Afghan people are able to develop the kind of indigenous security that they ultimately are going to need, whether it's border patrol, police forces, military people.
U.S. officials won't allow Afghanistan to be a terrorist sanctuary again, Rumsfeld said.
"Does that mean that more al Qaeda and Taliban might not drift back in from neighboring countries or from the mountains or from the villages and form another pocket like this? No. That's possible, and we may have to do this again in another part of the country. What I do know is it won't be the same people that we'll have to do it to. These people won't be around."
Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden may or may not be alive, he may or may not be in the country or just outside, the secretary said. "There's no way to know," Rumsfeld said. "Do we want to get bin Laden? Sure. Do I think we will? You bet I do."
U.S. officials do know, however, that the terrorist leader is "not functioning effectively," he said. "It is not possible for bin Laden to be using Afghanistan effectively as a haven for terrorism. He's not recruiting there. He's not training there. He's not raising money there. He's on the run."
Another terrorist attack is very likely, however, because terrorists trained in Afghanistan are in 40 or 50 countries around the world, he said. "Our goal is to do everything we can to root out these terrorist networks and to see that no country in the world provides safe havens."
A number of nations on the terrorist list have weapons of mass destruction and have weaponized chemical and biological weapons and are working aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, the secretary pointed out. U.S. officials have evidence that the al Qaeda want weapons of mass destruction.
"It doesn't take a genius to recognize that that is a very serious threat," Rumsfeld concluded.