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Rumsfeld in Kyrgyzstan on First Leg of Central Asia, Afghan Tour - 2002-04-26


U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Friday on the first leg of his tour of Central Asia and Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld said regional security and the continuing war against remnants of al-Qaida and its Taleban allies are the main focus of his visit.

Mr. Rumsfeld is in Kyrgyzstan to visit the nearly 2,000 American and allied troops currently based there, and to talk with Kyrgyz leaders about the war against terrorism.

The focus is nearby Afghanistan, where U.S. and allied troops continue to hunt down remnants of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and its Taleban supporters.

On his way to Bishkek, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters that allied troops are still sweeping the Afghan countryside, and are finding and detaining al-Qaida and Taleban fighters almost every day.

The secretary also warned that al-Qaida remnants are trying to re-group and might try to launch an offensive. Mr. Rumsfeld said such attacks would likely target Afghanistan's interim government as well as American and allied forces.

Kyrgyzstan does not actually border Afghanistan, but for the coalition troops based there, it is only a short flight away. The Kyrgyz government allowed the United States to base troops and jet fighters there early on, as the campaign against the Taleban began last year.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also scheduled to visit Afghanistan. For security reasons, other stops have thus far not been announced.

As Mr. Rumsfeld has thanked Kyrgyz leaders for their cooperation with the United States, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is in neighboring Uzbekistan as part of his visit to Central Asia. The Iranian leader is also talking about the U.S. troop presence.

Iran has accused the United States of trying to expand its influence in Central Asia and the nearby Caucasus region. During a visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday, President Khatami sharply criticized the American troop presence, calling it "humiliating" for the people in the region. Mr. Khatami is due to visit Kyrgyzstan on Sunday.

Secretary Rumsfeld is expected to stop off in Moscow after his Central Asia tour to meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Senior U.S. and Russian officials have been holding a series of talks to prepare for next month's summit between Russian President Putin and U.S. President Bush.

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