American Forces Press Service

Rice Adopts 'Wait and See' Mode Toward Action in Pakistan>

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2004 - Whether al Qaeda's second-in-command is, indeed, surrounded in a firefight near the Afghanistan border in Pakistan remains unknown, the president's national security advisor said in television interviews today.

"We'll just have to wait and see" whether Osama bin Laden associate Ayman al- Zawahiri is cornered, Condoleezza Rice said.

Rice appeared on the CBS "Early Morning Show," NBC's "Today," and ABC's "Good Morning America." She said she could not confirm media reports that have swarmed the country that Zawahiri is trapped and possibly wounded. "We are also depending on reports that are unconfirmed," she explained. While there "clearly is a fierce battle going on there," she said, U.S. officials haven't confirmed even the presence of a high-value target, much less that Zawahiri is there.

Rice wouldn't say whether U.S. forces are aiding Pakistan in the fight. She did say, however, that the United States has a very cooperative relationship with Pakistan, "and if and when they need assistance, we would be prepared to give it. But this is really the Pakistanis' fight at this point."

Although Zawahiri is a major leader in the al Qaeda terrorist network and his capture or death would boost the war on terrorism, Rice cautioned, it would not mean the end of terrorism.

"We've always said al Qaeda is not just one man, it's a network," she explained. "And we've already captured or killed two-thirds of their known leadership."

Capturing or killing Zawahiri will not necessarily mean the United States is any closer to bin Laden, she added.

"I don't think anyone has any way of knowing that," Rice said. "First of all, I don't think we know whether al-Zawahiri is indeed in that area and pinned down or not. We will find out. First reports are often wrong, and so we need to be cautious. But I don't think we also have any way of knowing who might be with him, if indeed he is there."

The battle in Pakistan began on the eve of today's one-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.

Rice said that because of the war, 25 million Iraqis are now free, and there are "no more rape rooms and torture chambers" in Iraq.

"This brutal and dangerous dictator against whom we went to war in 1991, against whom we used military force in 1998, who was shooting at our forces in no-fly zones to try and keep his forces down, that brutal dictator is gone. And the Middle East is going to be a very much safer place. "

Another sign of progress, she said, is the new transitional administrative law - Iraq's interim constitution -- that was passed earlier this month. Rice said the law will guarantee all Iraqis universal rights, such as the right to religious freedom, as well as women's rights -- "things that are largely unheard of in the region."

She admitted the road to progress has not been without its sacrifices.

"The fact is that sacrifice -- and we do really mourn every life, as well as those who are injured and have to go through now painful recovery -- we mourn that and we want to send our condolences to their families," Rice said. "But nothing good is ever won without sacrifice." Securing the peace in Iraq will continue to be an uphill fight, she added, but she said President Bush never underestimated the challenges.

"We knew that this was going to be challenging," she said. "Whenever you overthrow a regime that has been as brutal as Saddam Hussein's regime, that was as aggressive and dangerous as Saddam Hussein's regime, and you try to help a people who've been brutalized and tyrannized for all of this time make their way to a more democratic future, you know that you're in for a difficult, indeed long, task.

"But it has always been the case that Americans, when they begin a job, are intent on finishing that job," she said. "There are people who are trying to throw Iraq back into the Dark Ages. There are former regime elements who oppressed their fellow Iraqis for decades and are still trying to kill them," she said. "And there are foreign terrorists, like (Abu Musab) Zarqawi, who know and have said that Iraq is central to their aims, and if they cannot do this pretty quickly, they are going to find themselves in a more difficult position.

"So, yes, the foreign terrorists know what we know -- that Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism, that America will be safer when Iraq is secure, and when the Middle East is a different kind of place," Rice said.

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