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Rumsfeld Heads to Iraq, Afghanistan - 2003-09-02


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to travel to both Iraq and Afghanistan this week. Details are being kept secret for security reasons, but Mr. Rumsfeld's trip comes amid continuing violence in both countries despite efforts of U.S. troops to restore security.

Another bombing occurs in Baghdad, this time at a police station. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, Taleban fighters attack government security forces, killing and capturing several of them. In addition, two U.S. soldiers are fatally wounded.

The Baghdad bombing is the fourth in a month. The Afghan skirmishes appear to reflect what one Pentagon spokesman terms a "regrouping" of Taleban forces, two years after their ouster from power.

But that spokesman and other defense officials remain optimistic about the pace of efforts by the more than 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and the 10,000 others in Afghanistan to root out resistance forces like Saddam Hussein loyalists and the Taleban.

In Iraq, for example, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Cassella says U.S-led coalition forces are getting more and better intelligence that is enabling them to carry out more precision raids against Saddam's remaining supporters and other groups staging attacks.

Colonel Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman, tells VOA the military still needs more intelligence, especially in the wake of a series of four terrorist bombings in the past month, against the Jordanian embassy, the U.N. headquarters, a Shiite holy shrine and now a police station.

He says the blasts are under investigation but he says military experts believe they reflect a shift in tactics by opponents of the U.S.-led coalition. Though there continue to be what he calls harassment attacks on coalition soldiers, those types of attacks appear to be diminishing, apparently, he says, because they were not working - hence the shift to terrorist type bombings claiming more Iraqi than American lives.

More and more Iraqi security forces are being stood up to take over more responsibility for guarding strategic and other sites, including borders. But Colonel Cassella admits attacks may continue because he says every potential target in Iraq cannot be guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As for Afghanistan, though Taleban forces may be regrouping and trying more attacks, defense officials, including Pentagon spokesman Cassella, say every time they show themselves, they are smashed - whether by U.S.-led coalition forces or by Afghanistan's new national army or provincial militia.

The apparent surge in attacks may indicate what Colonel Cassella calls a miscalculation by the Taleban and its supporters. He says if they believed U.S. attention on Iraq has lessened the American commitment to Afghanistan, then the Taleban have made a mistake.

He says U.S. forces remain dedicated to building both a new Afghanistan and a new Iraq.

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