Coalition forces in Afghanistan have launched a new military operation against suspected al-Qaida and Taleban fighters in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not discussing details of what is called Operation Condor.

But in an interview with radio reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld likens it to similar sweeps against terrorist hideouts in the past and says there will be more like it in the future. "There have been in the past, there are now and there will be in the future a variety of efforts where coalition forces will be conducting sweeps through areas that we have reason to believe could or might or do have varying concentrations of al-Qaida or Taleban," he noted.

Coalition forces have yet to find al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden or Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar, who disappeared from sight soon after the start of the U.S.-led military offensive in Afghanistan.

But the mullah is now quoted in a London-based Arabic-language newspaper as saying bin Laden is still alive.

Asked about the claim, Mr. Rumsfeld said he has no knowledge about the whereabouts or fate of either man. He stressed there have been many tips but nothing has proved to be solid. "None of it seems to prove out and I think it is interesting that there hasn't been any good hard information in what is now turning out to be quite a period of time," the defense secretary said.

Mr. Rumsfeld dismisses the current controversy over claims the Bush administration could have done more to protect the United States from terrorists before the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center.

He pointed out it is virtually impossible to stop dedicated terrorists and that pursuing them at their bases is the only choice. "You can't defend everywhere at every time against every conceivable way that a terrorist could attack you," he said. "That means that you have no choice but to go after them."

Mr. Rumsfeld says the administration's goal is to put pressure on terrorists and their backers worldwide to minimize their chances of obtaining weapons of mass destruction and using them against the United States and its allies.