U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States can either become terrorized by the events of September 11 or it can take the battle to the enemy, the al-Qaida terrorist network based in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he is confident the American public will continue to support the military campaign in Afghanistan even if U.S. forces suffer casualties in the weeks and months to come.
Mr. Rumsfeld says he does worry about the men and women in the U.S. armed forces involved in the Afghan operation, but he also says Americans now realize that they do not have an alternative to going after the terrorists and their Taleban supporters in Afghanistan.
"The support of the American people will be steady and firm and understands that we have already lost thousands of lives," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "And our alternative, either the United States acquiesces and becomes terrorized and alters our way of life and gives up all of our freedom, that we systematically give up our freedom and our ability to function, or we take this battle to the enemy and to the terrorists and we must do that."
In an interview with VOA, Mr. Rumsfeld prefers not to dwell on the whereabouts of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, saying the real objective is the al-Qaida terrorist network and its Taleban supporters inside Afghanistan. The defense secretary says he does not wake up every day wondering where Osama bin Laden is, but he was cautious in assessing the progress of the military effort so far in finding him.
"You don't know that until you have accomplished it. It is the kind of a thing that until it happens, one won't know. There is no question that we have made an effort to see that the al-Qaida organization and the Taleban leadership have not an easy time of it. That is to say, they are being forced to move quite a bit, they are being forced to watch what they do and be careful. And our goal is to roll up that terrorist network and stop them from killing innocent people," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Some military analysts have suggested that the United States may want to try and finish its military campaign before the onset of the Afghan winter in the next several weeks. But Mr. Rumsfeld says there is no set timetable for the military operation, and "the reality is that this is going to take years. And how long the military part of the Afghanistan piece will take, no one can know.
"We do know that it will take a long time to deal with the problem of terrorism. It is spread across the globe and my guess is it won't end with a bang, it will end with a whimper," said the defense secretary. "It will just stop at some point because we will have put so much pressure on terrorists and on terrorist networks and on the people that harbor and facilitate and finance them that at some point it will be drying up their support and they will disappear. People will no longer think it is in their interests to do what they are doing and no longer think it is in their interests to help people do what they were doing."
Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has suggested that the United States might suspend its military campaign during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November. Secretary Rumsfeld says that while it is important to be sensitive to concerns of a variety of countries in the region, the need to stop terrorism may outweigh those concerns. "My impression is that stopping these terrorists before they use even still more powerful capability, which they clearly have the ability to gain access to, is a pretty important assignment and we best keep at it," he explained.
Secretary Rumsfeld acknowledged that he is concerned that the United States is not effectively getting the message out that this is a war on terrorism and not on Islam in general. He also says claims by the Taleban should be treated with a great deal of skepticism.
"We know...that the Taleban are lying through their teeth. They have contended that they have shot down helicopters, which is not true. They are lying to the Afghan people, claiming that the food we are delivering is unclean, which is a flat lie. It has been very carefully handled. And they have lied about civilian casualties day after day after day," he said.
"One has to think about who is saying something and in this case, the people who are saying it are people who have repressed their people, done terrible damage to the women of that country, don't allow them to study anything, don't allow them to learn anything. Deny them medical attention. This is a group of people who have been particularly vicious to the Afghan people," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld says the military campaign in Afghanistan is only one piece of a larger war on terrorism around the world that involves an international coalition determined to arrest those involved in terrorist activities and to clamp down on those individuals and groups that provide financial assistance to terrorists.