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Taleban Loyalists No Longer Pose Threat, says Karzai - 2004-02-26

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, says militants loyal to the country's former Taleban rulers no longer pose a threat.

President Hamid Karzai says the Taleban, blamed for a bloody two-year insurgency across eastern and southern Afghanistan, has all but collapsed.

Speaking during a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Afghan leader said a significant number of Taleban fighters are now seeking surrender.

"The Taleban as a movement does not exist anymore," he said. "You would be surprised, if I disclose to you, as to how many approaches from the Taleban we have on a daily basis - individuals, groups coming to talk to us to let them back into the country."

Just hours earlier, Afghan authorities reported the killing of five local aid workers, about 60 kilometers east of the capital, Kabul.

But President Karzai said such violent incidents occur in most of the world's nations, and it would be wrong to assume that all are part of an anti-government insurgency.

"Every act that is committed by a Kalashnikov [assault rifle] is not an act done either by the Taleban or al-Qaida," he said.

Secretary Rumsfeld praised Afghanistan's transition to democracy. He said the United States would continue assisting the war-ravaged country with security and other help.

He says the NATO military alliance, which currently leads an international peacekeeping force in Kabul and the northern city of Kunduz, supports expanding its presence to increase security throughout Afghanistan.

"There is a great deal of support within the NATO alliance for continuing to assist Afghanistan in its security area, and increasingly so over the coming months and, I suspect, years," said Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr. Rumsfeld also expressed confidence that coalition forces would eventually capture Osama bin Laden, the fugitive leader of the al-Qaida terror network. But he said he had no idea when that would happen.

Secretary Rumsfeld visited Kabul and the southern province of Kandahar on a one-day trip, as part of a tour of Iraq and Central Asia.