Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has strongly reiterated the Bush administration's view that the only way to combat terrorists is to take the war directly to them overseas.
The secretary's staunch defense of the administration's pursuit of terrorists in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan came in remarks marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. military personnel in Beirut.
But his comments also followed the leak of a memorandum to senior Pentagon officials in which Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to diverge from the administration's generally upbeat predictions about progress in the global war on terrorism.
Mr. Rumsfeld said in the document there had been only what he called "mixed results" in the fight with al-Qaida, and he forecast what he termed "a long, hard slog [struggle]" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But in an impromptu meeting with reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld denied he was revealing any hidden truths.
"From the very beginning, we've said this global war on terrorism is a tough one," he said. "It's going to take a long time. It's going to take the cooperation of a lot of countries. It's going to take all elements of national power, these were things that have been said and repeated consistently."
Mr. Rumsfeld insisted his memorandum was only intended to stimulate thinking within the top echelons of the Pentagon about how to fight terrorism. For example, he asked in the document whether the Defense Department needs to reorganize, or whether a new anti-terror institution is required.
But he stressed in his remarks to reporters that the United States cannot afford to simply sit back and try and protect its citizens against terrorists within its own borders.
"Anyone who thinks that free people can just hunker down and find a way to hide and defend against what's happening in this world of ours are wrong, and that the only way to deal with the problem of terrorists is to take the battle to them, and that is what the president of the United States is doing," he said.
Prior to the secretary's unexpected appearance in the Pentagon's briefing room, the director of operations for the military's Joint Staff met reporters. Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz disclosed several new coalition operations in Iraq that have netted weapons, explosives and suspects believed responsible for bomb attacks as well as illegal smuggling.
But General Schwartz also acknowledged terrorist forces in Iraq were proving to be "resilient." He also reported a recent increase in attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces.