Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he does not anticipate any quick reduction in the numbers of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan even though he says security conditions are improving in much of the country.
There are now more than 8,000 U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan, almost double the number first deployed nearly a year ago to fight al-Qaida and Taleban forces.
Yet even though those forces have been largely defeated, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he doesn't envisage any dramatic reduction of American soldiers anytime soon.
He said there are still troubled areas in the country, especially in the southeast. "The most difficult area still remains from a security standpoint southeast of Kabul, towards the Pakistan border," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld's comments in an interview with a small group of radio reporters, came as U.S. military officials in Afghanistan disclosed they are moving more conventional forces to bases along the frontier with Pakistan.
They hope the more robust American presence will help prevent al-Qaida and Taleban fighters from slipping over the border.
Taleban elements in particular have been linked to a recent spate of violent acts in Afghanistan, including a bloody bombing in Kabul and an attempt on the life of new Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.
In his interview, Mr. Rumsfeld suggests he is not overly disturbed by such incidents. He said there are disgruntled elements in most countries around the world and violent acts can only be expected.
"I think we have to expect that. It's a tough part of the world," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He said a key goal now is to get the people of Afghanistan to take over responsibility for their own security. In addition to training growing numbers of soldiers for a new Afghan national army, he said coalition forces are benefiting from an increasing number of intelligence tips from individual Afghans who are revealing the location of fugitive al-Qaida and Taleban fighters and suspect weapons caches.