Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar must not be allowed to go free in return for a negotiated surrender of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Mr. Rumsfeld says the United States has made its views clear to anti-Taleban forces, Mullah Omar does not deserve freedom.
Mr. Rumsfeld says he is not aware of any deal in the making that involves Kandahar that would be inconsistent with U.S. desires. But he says American military and other cooperation with anti-Taleban groups would suffer if there was one.
"Our cooperation and assistance with those people would clearly take a turn for the south [deteriorate] if something were to be done in respect to the senior people in that situation that was inconsistent with what I have said," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld says the United States remains committed to bringing senior Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist leaders to justice.
But he declines to say explicitly that the Bush administration wants to take Mullah Omar into custody, possibly to stand trial before a U.S. military tribunal. He suggests other options are possible.
"Obviously he [Omar] has been the principal person who has been harboring the al-Qaida network in that country," the secretary said. "He does not deserve the medal of freedom."
In the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld says there has been no let-up in U.S. air-strikes aimed at the remaining forces of the Taleban and al-Qaida.
Defense officials say anti-Taleban forces, backed by U.S. air support, are closing in on suspected al-Qaida hide outs in caves and tunnels in eastern Afghanistan.