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Rumsfeld Heads to Middle East

President Bush is dispatching Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the Middle East as the buildup of U.S. forces in that region continues for anti-terrorist operations.

The Pentagon says Mr. Rumsfeld's trip will focus on the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism and underscore the importance of Mideast countries in the coalitions being assembled by the Bush administration for the campaign.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke gives no details of Mr. Rumsfeld's itinerary. She says arrangements are still being worked out for the trip, which she says will last "a few days."

Ms. Clarke says U.S. forces continue to take up positions for Operation Enduring Freedom, the code name for planned U.S. anti-terrorist military operations in the wake of last month's suicide terror attacks on New York and Washington.

She tells reporters about 30,000 troops have been deployed to the Gulf region along with some 350 military aircraft and two aircraft carrier battle groups.

But Ms. Clarke declines to say when those forces might move against terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden and his supporters, who are believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. "We're not going to talk about timing," she said. "It's just not useful and it's not helpful. The element of surprise is one of the things we want."

Meanwhile, Ms. Clarke confirms that intensive planning is under way at the Pentagon for providing humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan as a critical element of military operations.

She says it underscores the U.S. message that any such operations are not aimed at the Afghan people but at terrorists and their supporters. "We have a great deal of sympathy," she said, "for the people of Afghanistan who are terribly repressed and starving and fleeing for the borders and one of the reasons we have made it such a large recipient of aid in the past and will in the future is for exactly those reasons."

Officials are working to determine the size and content of U.S. shipments of food aid and other relief supplies.

Pentagon sources indicate one option under consideration would be air drops targeted at Afghans who have moved away from areas under Taleban control.