US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says Afghanistan operation won't take years to complete

Monday, November 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that the military operation in Afghanistan was becoming more effective every day and would not take years to complete.

``We are engaged in a military exercise of self-defense,'' he said at a joint news conference with India's Defense Minister George Fernandes, who has been quoted as calling the U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan a ``waste of explosives.''

Asked if he wanted to respond to that, Rumsfeld answered, ``You bet.''

Rumsfeld said it is impossible to defend every possible target where terrorists may strike, so ``the only way to do it is to take the battle to them.'' With more U.S. military teams on the ground in Afghanistan to direct aircraft, ``the effectiveness of bombing is improving every day.''

``Do I think the operation in Afghanistan will take years? No I don't,'' he said. ``We will take the least possible time.''

Asked if he accepted the U.S. military tactics in Afghanistan, Fernandes said, ``It's the military men who decide military tactics. One should accept what's happening.''

Rumsfeld and Fernandes discussed increased military cooperation, India's request for an end to restrictions on technology that can be used for nuclear power or nuclear weapons, and the future of Afghanistan.

President Bush recently lifted many sanctions on India and Pakistan, including bans on military contacts and economic punishments, which went into effect after both nations tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Restrictions on missile technology still remain and were being discussed, Fernandes said.

Rumsfeld was headed back to Washington after a tour of four nations, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, which are partners in the campaign to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorist network from Afghanistan. The United States accuses bin Laden of organizing the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

In Tajikistan, Rumsfeld said the United States would form an ``assessment team'' to look into ways in which the Central Asian nation could assist the military.

Tajikistan currently allows flights carrying U.S. aid to cross its airspace and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said assistance could be expanded to allow overflights of military planes or the use of Tajikistan's air fields.

In India, Rumsfeld also said that he and Fernandes talked in general about terrorism, but did not specify whether Kashmir was a topic of discussion.

India accuses Pakistan of funding and training Islamic militants at camps in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The separatists have been fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan since 1989, in an insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Pakistan said it provides only moral support.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. Two of them have been over Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between them by a volatile cease-fire line.