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THE WORLD

Rumsfeld, in Kabul, Discusses Future Afghan Army

April 28, 2002|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KABUL, Afghanistan — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flew into this capital Saturday for a daylong visit, his Chinook helicopter landing on the U.S. Embassy grounds for security reasons and spraying a hail of dust over waiting Afghan military officials.

Rumsfeld was coy, however, about reports that members of the U.S. military are involved in anti-terrorist operations across the border in Pakistan, insisting that Washington has no business disclosing such operations.

He said only that the U.S. is pleased with the cooperation it has had from Pakistan in the war against terrorism.

Rumsfeld also spoke with members of the international peacekeeping force at Bagram air base north of Kabul, where he earlier landed before flying by chopper to the U.S. Embassy here.

At the presidential palace in the capital, he met with the interim Afghan prime minister, Hamid Karzai, and defense minister, Mohammed Qassim Fahim, and discussed the future of Afghanistan's army and how it should be structured.

During the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, it's believed that many figures associated with either the deposed Taliban regime or the Al Qaeda terrorist network have slipped into Pakistan, because the border between the two countries is almost impossible to police.

Rumsfeld said the porous border makes it difficult to eliminate terrorist groups, but "it doesn't make it an impossible situation."

But he said U.S. policy is not to discuss what is going on inside a country if its leaders prefer secrecy.

"I can only say that I have been very happy with the broad cooperation by the Pakistan government," he said.

He said that, although it would be impossible to seal the Afghan-Pakistani border, it is possible to trace clusters of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters and go after them.

Rumsfeld said that if U.S. military forces were in Pakistan, it would be up to Pakistan's government to announce that.

The issue is a sensitive one for the government in Pakistan, where a referendum is to be held Tuesday on whether to extend the term of President Pervez Musharraf, an army general who overthrew the civilian government in 1999. In the northwestern frontier region of Pakistan, the main area where Taliban and Al Qaeda members are thought to be sheltering, anti-American sentiment is high.

Although Rumsfeld and Karzai discussed the shape of an Afghan national army, they offered few new details of how it might look. It will be trained by the U.S. and France, and Washington has been organizing meetings of international donors to help fund security in Kabul.

Rumsfeld's visit was a boost to Karzai on the eve of a big military parade in Kabul set to feature tanks and soldiers. His stop came the day after a rocket attack on Bagram that caused no casualties or damage.

The secretary's trip also coincided with an upsurge of fighting in the city of Gardez, 60 miles south of Kabul, in an apparent struggle between political rivals.

In the evening, Rumsfeld traveled to the western city of Herat, where he met with Gov. Ismail Khan.

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