With opposition forces advancing and Taleban and al-Qaida troops in retreat under air attack, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the disarray could lead to the detention of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Rumsfeld says the current disarray in Afghanistan could prove advantageous in achieving the next U.S. goal in the military operation: tracking down the top leaders of the Taleban and al-Qaida.
"To the extent that there are more opponents of the al Qaida and Taleban in more parts of the country, one would think more information will ultimately become available," he said. "Furthermore, it should be pointed out that we have substantial rewards out for information and for the locations of those folks. And, you know, it may very well be that money will talk at some point."
But Mr. Rumsfeld tells reporters at the Pentagon the endgame of the Afghan campaign will not be quick or easy. He says the Taleban and al-Qaida may try to reorganize their forces in the south or they may try to blend into the countryside to wage a guerrilla struggle. The U.S. Defense Secretary says the leadership may even try to flee abroad, possibly to Iran or Pakistan or maybe to Somalia or Sudan.
In the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld reports U.S. intelligence is picking up signs of tensions in relations between the Taleban and al-Qaida. "You know, when things are good, everything's easy, and when things are bad, everything's tough. And things are tough right now for some of those folks," he said. "And that, I think, has led to some friction, and we pick up bits and scraps of that from people and things that aren't going quite well and debates as to where reinforcements should go, debates as to who should get what supplies.
"And people get confused signals. Some get signals from al-Qaida; others get them from the Taleban. And I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that at various levels of those two organizations, which had previously been working together intimately, that the intimacy is strained."
Mr. Rumsfeld says U.S. air forces are still trying to attack Taleban and al-Qaida troops, even those in retreat. He says those troops have been offered an opportunity to surrender.
But he says they are not surrendering and not abandoning their weapons. Mr. Rumsfeld says that makes them what he terms "a perfectly legitimate and attractive target."