U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is flying back to Washington after a five-nation trip to the Middle East and Central Asia aimed at shoring up support for a comprehensive, U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

At a news conference before leaving Turkey, the last stop on his trip, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed for the first time that U.S. officials are in contact not only with Afghan opposition groups in the north of the country, but also in the south.

Mr. Rumsfeld gave the strongest indication yet that the United States is hopeful these groups will play a leading role in breaking up the suspected terrorist network of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan that is supported by the ruling Taleban. He said, "We are talking to the forces in the north and the forces in the south, recognizing that they have an interest in the future of that country and we certainly hope that they're successful in rejecting a terrorist network that has pretty much taken over their country."

In addition to Turkey, the U.S. defense secretary's trip took him to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan, where he secured permission for U.S. forces to use an air base for search and rescue missions aimed at protecting other U.S. military assets in the region.

To assume those duties, 1,000 U.S. Army troops were traveling to Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan to the north.

It marks the first major deployment of U.S. ground forces in a build-up that has already seen scores of ships and hundreds of aircraft sent to the area.

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Mr. Shevardnadze later told reporters that if necessary, U.S. forces may use Georgian airspace and bases. In return for Georgian cooperation, Mr. Wolfowitz promised U.S. security assistance. He gave no details.