Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it is far too soon to predict when coalition forces may be able to leave Afghanistan.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld says much has been accomplished since U.S.-led coalition forces first moved into Afghanistan late last year to attack terrorist targets following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
But Mr. Rumsfeld said that does not mean that the work of restoring stability to Afghanistan is anywhere near complete. "I think it would be foolhardy to even begin to suggest a time that one could say that this task is done," he emphasized. "We know that there are still al-Qaida over the borders and we know that there are still Taleban hiding in the villages and mountains."
Mr. Rumsfeld said suspected al-Qaida and Taleban fighters are still being taken into custody and more weapons caches are being found. He calls it a continuing process.
His comments at a Pentagon news conference came a day after Mr. Rumsfeld asserted there are still several top al-Qaida officials are large who are fully capable of running the terrorist network.
He was asked during an appearance at a military exercise outside of Washington whether he believed one of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's sons [Saad] might have taken over the organization following his father's disappearance and possible death.
"There are three, four, five, six, seven people who could, who know where the bank accounts are, who know the key players, the key planners and are perfectly capable of running that operation," answered Mr. Rumsfeld. "Whether the son [Saad] ends up being one of them, one never knows until a sorting out takes place."
Defense officials say Osama bin Laden has not been heard from or seen since December and may be dead. But they concede they do not know for sure and admit he could be in hiding.
Pentagon sources say some of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards have been captured and are being held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But they say this is not conclusive proof of Osama bin Laden's death in military action in Afghanistan.