U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Thursday warned an early withdrawal of troops from Iraq or Afghanistan would fuel terrorist attacks inside the United States. Mr. Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan, visiting U.S. troops before the coming holidays.
The defense secretary's comments come just days after the Pentagon announced plans to pull about 2,500 troops out of Afghanistan early next year.
Mr. Rumsfeld was speaking Thursday to several hundred U.S. troops at Bagram air base near the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Despite the troop pullout, Mr. Rumsfeld warned that any signs of an accelerated withdrawal abroad would have disastrous consequences in the United States.
"If we were to withdraw from Afghanistan precipitously, or from Iraq, the terrorists would attack us first somewhere else and then they would attack us at home. Let there be no doubt," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
He said any pullout from Iraq will have to wait until Iraqi security forces are properly trained.
The Bush administration faces mounting pressure at home to withdraw troops from Iraq, where the bloody insurgency has claimed more than 2,000 U.S. lives.
But in a series of recent speeches the president has insisted U.S. forces will not leave Iraq until the country is stabilized and terrorist forces have been defeated.
Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld said the limited pullout in Afghanistan will not weaken or slow the United States' hunt for terrorists.
Mr. Rumsfeld Thursday ended his two-day visit to Afghanistan. His trip was part of a tour of areas where U.S. troops are operating, and included a stop in Pakistan to meet troops performing earthquake relief operations here.