Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is rejecting charges that by opposing expansion of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, the United States is not doing enough to help stabilize the security situation there.
Mr. Rumsfeld is not prone to public displays of anger. But the U.S. Defense Secretary appeared at the very least exasperated this week when confronted with fresh allegations that his opposition to expansion of the 4,500 soldier strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is undermining the interim government of Hamid Karzai.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld again said expansion of the peace force is not up to the United States alone. He notes the Turks, who will soon take over leadership of the force from the British, oppose expansion outside the capital, Kabul.
He says he does not - and never has - opposed expansion of the force. But he says expansion is an issue most often raised by groups who have no forces - an apparent reference to some aid groups and others who have advocated expansion. "If someone came up and said, 'We'd like to expand it, and here are the forces and here's the money to pay those forces, and we think that they belong in cities A, B, C in Afghanistan,' and the government of Afghanistan decided they wanted to do that, it would happen in a flash," he said.
But Mr. Rumsfeld's exasperation appeared to grow into outright irritation when another questioner suggested that peace force aside, the United States has not done enough to help stabilize Afghanistan. "We have spent billions and billions of dollars," he said. "We have put American lives at risk. We have fashioned a coalition to help in that process. We have liberated the Afghan people from a repressive Taleban regime. And we have moved the al-Qaida out of their terrorist training camps and they are no longer using that."
Moreover, Mr. Rumsfeld notes the United States is now involved in helping train a new Afghan national army. It is also providing logistics and intelligence support to the international peace force along with a quick reaction military unit as a security backup if needed.
In addition, he points out the United States has long been heavily involved in humanitarian aid projects in Afghanistan. "And it seems to me that any characterization that the United States has not stepped up to the plate with respect to Afghanistan is a misunderstanding of what has happened and what is currently happening," said Donald Rumsfeld. "We are not the only country on the face of the earth. There are other nations that have resources, that have troops."
Ultimately, though, Mr. Rumsfeld says it will be up to the various forces in Afghanistan itself to decide the fate of the country. "I want to do what people there want to do," he said. "The last thing you're going to hear from this podium is someone thinking they know how Afghanistan ought to organize itself. They're going to have to figure it out. They're going to have to grab ahold of that thing and do something. And we're there to help."
Still, criticism of the Bush administration's attitude to peacekeeping persists. Even The Wall Street Journal, usually a conservative voice of support for U.S. policy, appears at odds with Mr. Rumsfeld on the issue of expanding the international security force in Afghanistan.
In a commentary this week, a senior editor at the newspaper said that what he terms U.S. indifference to the fate of the peacekeepers might run the risk of having Afghanistan revert to the kind of chaos that made it a breeding ground for terrorists in the first place.