Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has confirmed that U.S. forces have begun providing security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. Rumsfeld makes clear the United States looks at the decision to provide bodyguards for Mr. Karzai as a relatively short-term move. But speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, the Defense secretary says it is vital to preserve the integrity of Mr. Karzai's election by the recent assembly known as the Loya Jirga.
"Clearly it is important for that country that the outcome of Loya Jirga not be negated by violence," Mr. Rumsfeld said. Mr. Rumsfeld also says protecting Mr. Karzai in the wake of the recent assassination of another senior official is important.
"His security is important," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It's important to the people of Afghanistan and needless to say we want to be as helpful and cooperative as we can." The secretary's comments came during a news conference in which he painted a relatively positive picture of the accomplishments made in the nine months since the United States launched its global war on terrorism.
In the assessment, Mr. Rumsfeld notes Afghanistan is no longer a pariah state hosting terrorists, but he acknowledges some terrorist fighters have eluded capture. "Taleban and al-Qaida fugitives are still at large," he said, "some in Afghanistan, others fled across the borders waiting for the opportunity to return. They continue to pose a threat."
Mr. Rumsfeld says Pakistani authorities have recently apprehended several suspected al-Qaida members, including one man who might have been a top financial official for the terrorist group.
But he concedes al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden remains unaccounted for, although he says he believes that "we'll all survive" even if he is never actually found. Mr. Rumsfeld says Osama bin Laden may be dead or not physically able to emerge from hiding or is simply unwilling to emerge for fear that he might get caught.
On another controversial issue, Mr. Rumsfeld defends the overall accuracy of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, saying they have been the most accurate of all time and civilian casualties remain low. He says he has viewed a portion of a videotape taken from an AC-130 gunship accused of recently killing and injuring scores of civilians at a wedding party in a remote area north of Kandahar. He says there was clearly ground fire aimed at the plane.
The crew as well as U.S. ground forces in the area say the plane was responding to heavy anti-aircraft fire when it fired on a village where the casualties occurred.