The top U.S. defense official says the United States is making progress in its fight against accused terrorist Osama bin Laden and his hosts in Afghanistan. But he admits the task of locating him and his followers is proving difficult.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Thursday defended the U.S. military campaign, saying the United States must keep up the pressure until terrorists and their sponsors are no longer able to function.
Tons of deadly ordnance have been dropped on suspected terrorist hideouts and strongholds of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban in the nearly three-week long campaign. Yet terror suspect Osama bin Laden remains at large and the Taleban are still in power.
Asked by reporters about what success U.S. forces have achieved, Mr. Rumsfeld replied it can only be measured by the end result. "Well, it is, as I think we've all indicated, not something that one measures by the number of bombs dropped or the amount of ordnance expended," he said. "It is going to be measured over time as to whether or not we are successful in stopping the Taleban leadership from harboring al-Qaida, and stopping the al-Qaida organization from committing acts of terrorism that kill thousands of people."
Mr. Rumsfeld conceded that finding Osama bin Laden and his followers is an extraordinarily difficult task. But he voiced his firm conviction that he will be found, and the Taleban will be toppled if pressure continues to be maintained. "It's hard," he said. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. I suspect it's easier to change the Taleban leadership over time than necessarily to simultaneously or before the fact find a specific person. But we certainly intend to find him and we are certainly doing everything that is humanly possible to do that as well as not just him, but the whole array of al-Qaida and Taleban leadership."
General Richard Meyers, chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported that U.S. warplanes attacked nine areas in Afghanistan Wednesday and also hit what he called "targets of opportunity."
Mr. Rumsfeld and General Myers said U.S. officials have tried to respond accurate and honestly to Taleban accusations of civilian casualties in U.S. air raids. But they also accuse the Taleban of lying and trying to make political capital out of the issue.