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FBI Tells Senate too Early to Evaluate Afghan Campaign - 2001-12-19

Officials from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation say it is too soon to assess whether the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan has sufficiently weakened the al-Qaeda terrorist organization to keep it from posing a threat in the future. The officials testified before a Senate panel Tuesday.

J.T. Caruso, acting assistant FBI director in the counterterrorism division, was reluctant to evaluate the U.S.-led military effort in Afghanistan during his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. He said, "It is too early to tell from a law enforcement perspective how the current military campaign in Afghanistan will affect al-Qaeda and its ability to operate in the future."

Mr. Caruso said determination and vigilance are key to the success of the mission. "It is one thing to disrupt an organization such as al-Qaeda," he said. "It is another to dismantle and destroy it. This must truly remain an international effort. All agencies within the U.S. government must remain vigilant, and must continue to work together in order to eradicate the scourge to all mankind everywhere known as al-Qaeda."

Mr. Caruso argued that while al-Qaeda's training camps and havens are being destroyed in the bombing campaign, al-Qaeda cells elsewhere in the world could threaten the United States.

It is a point another FBI official says should not be lost on the United States as it tries to hunt down al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Thomas Wilshere is with the FBI's International Terrorism division. Mr. Wilshire said, "The capabilities and reach of the organization has reached critical mass. They had a long head start, so the campaign against safe-haven in Afghanistan is as important if not more important in my mind than the search for bin Laden and his top two leaders."

U.S. military officials have acknowledged the possibility that some al-Qaeda members could have crossed the border into Pakistan. Pakistani troops have been deployed to try to apprehend fleeing members of the terrorist network.