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Rumsfeld Says Afghan Progress Remarkable

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2002 -- A year after the beginning of combat operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the achievements of coalition forces has been remarkable.

Rumsfeld said during an Oct. 7 Pentagon news conference that the United States has put together a coalition of more than 90 nations against the terror threat. He said it is the largest military coalition ever assembled.

"As we stated last Oct. 7, . U.S. military objectives in Afghanistan were to drive the Taliban from power, to capture, kill or disrupt al Qaeda, to provide humanitarian relief to the Afghan people and begin the process of creating conditions that will eventually make Afghanistan inhospitable to terrorist networks," he said.

Rumsfeld said he would like to know what has happened to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but he is not frustrated. "We said when this began that it was not about one person," he told reporters.

The coalition campaign in Afghanistan began less than a month after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. He said the U.S. strategy in the country capitalized on an imaginative combination of 21st century technology and 19th century military tactics. The coalition teamed air power, precision-guided munitions and state-of- the-art communications, with thousands of Afghan warriors on foot or on horseback.

He said that within a month the fruits of the actions were being reaped. Mazar-e Sharif fell Nov. 7, and then actions moved south with the fall of Bagram, Kabul and, on Dec. 7, 2001, Kandahar - the stronghold of the Taliban.

He said the Afghan people have spoken via the loya jirga process and selected a government that is working to establish itself. The government needs help to maintain itself and to start bringing security to the region. U.S. and French trainers, for example, are training Afghan battalions for the national army. Other coalition partners are participating in the International Security Assistance Force.

U.S. and coalition allies are also working with the government to aid in rebuilding the country, shattered by more than 25 years of war. Military and civilian organizations are providing food, water, health care and aid to returning refugees. Rumsfeld said it is a positive sign for the world that so many refugees -- hundreds of thousands, according to the United Nations -- are returning to their homes in Afghanistan.

But all this progress did not come cheaply. Fifty-three Americans have died in the region since combat began. Rumsfeld said the United States is committed to Afghanistan and ensuring it never again becomes a haven for international terror groups.

Operations in Afghanistan are just a part of the war on terrorism, the secretary reiterated. He said U.S. objectives remain to defeat those who use terrorism and those who host or support terrorists.

"There is no question that free nations are under threat," he said. "Thousands of terrorists remain at large in dozens of countries. They are seeking weapons of mass destruction that will allow them to kill not only thousands, but tens of thousands of innocent people.

"Our objective in the global war on terror is to prevent another Sept. 11 or an attack that is far worse."

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