Despite a series of battlefield victories by U.S. and anti-Taleban forces, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is warning the anti-terrorist campaign inside Afghanistan has entered a difficult and dangerous phase.
Mr. Rumsfeld Tuesday hailed the progress made thus far in destroying the Taleban and al-Qaida, and in confining their forces in a limited number of areas.
But the Defense Secretary said risks and dangers still exist. "It's not over. It's going to take some time," he told reporters. "It's going to be difficult. It's going to be dangerous. People are going to die because of the risks and dangers that exist there."
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Tampa, Florida, headquarters of the U.S. Central Command - the military command in charge of the Afghanistan operation - Mr. Rumsfeld said cities that have fallen to anti-Taleban forces are not necessarily safe.
"There are people in those cities who are hiding, and who are perfectly willing to tie grenades around their bodies, blow up themselves and whoever else happens to be standing around," the secretary said. "There are people who have defected, who may redefect. There are people who've gone across borders who may come back across borders. It is a difficult environment for the Americans who are there. It's a difficult environment for the coalition forces that are there. And it's a difficult environment for the opposition forces who are attempting to provide some stability in those villages and towns."
Meanwhile, Army four-star General Tommy Franks, the commander of the Central Command, said U.S. forces have identified more than 40 sites inside Afghanistan where al-Qaida terrorists may have been working with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
General Franks said U.S. experts have been systematically visiting the sites, and have acquired a large number of samples. But he said it will take time to determine whether there was any serious terrorist work on so-called weapons of mass destruction.