Rumsfeld: U.S. encouraging Taliban to 'surrender, or change sides'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday that U.S. propaganda efforts, including radio broadcasts and dropping leaflets over Afghanistan, are aimed at encouraging Taliban forces to surrender or defect to opposing forces.
"The hope is that those Taliban people will in fact move over and support the Northern Alliance and support the tribes in the south," Rumsfeld said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "The point of the broadcasts and of the leaflets that are being dropped is that we're encouraging people to surrender or to change sides."
Some have interpreted the broadcasts as a sign of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan in the future, because they give instructions on surrendering to U.S. troops. Rumsfeld did not address that possibility, but he noted that Taliban soldiers can surrender to the Northern Alliance and other opposition groups that are waging battle against the Taliban.
"The Afghan forces on the ground that are opposed to Taliban and opposed to al Qaeda are in many, many locations," he said. "And it's far more likely that they'll be working with those forces."
U.S. will keep the pressure on
With the U.S.-led airstrikes against the Taliban regime and al Qaeda terrorists now in their second week, Rumsfeld vowed to keep the pressure on terrorists and their supporters. "We're going to do it as energetically and as vigorously and as opportunistically as we can," he said. "And they best know that."
But he also stressed that the war is not one against the Afghan people. He said U.S. bombing missions have been carefully targeted, using high-precision weapons, to avoid populated areas. Rumsfeld noted that there have been some civilian casualties, but said the Taliban have inflicted greater harm against civilians through oppression, violence and famine.
"What they have done to the people of Afghanistan is a tragedy," he said.
"This effort is certainly not against the Afghan people. It's not against a race. It's not against a religion. It's against terrorists who came into the United States and killed thousands of human beings, innocent people," Rumsfeld told Amanpour.
Rumsfeld said the overwhelming majority of U.S. airstrikes have not taken place in populated areas, but have been directed against military targets, many of which are located on the outskirts of cities, including Kabul. He said the attacks have been targeted in such a way that Afghan civilians have been largely able to go about their everyday lives.
"We have a lot of reports from the ground to the effect that Afghans -- innocent Afghan people -- are going about their affairs pretty much as normal, notwithstanding the bombing campaign," he said.
Rumsfeld also noted that there are other weapons being used in Afghanistan apart from the U.S. strikes -- such as anti-aircraft fire from the Taliban, and artillery fire along the front lines between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance -- suggesting that they might also have contributed to civilian casualties. What's going on in Afghanistan, he said, is a tragedy.
'Our hope is that it can end soon'
"It is truly a tragedy. And our hope is that it can end soon, and the Afghan people can be cared for and assisted," he said. "It's not an accident that the United States of America (had given) something like $170 million for food assistance to Afghanistan well before September 11. We do care about the people of that country."
The defense secretary said he considers it unlikely that United States troops will play an active role as peacekeepers in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban. "Clearly, the United States has an interest in a post-Taliban Afghanistan," he said, but added that it is more likely to consist of financial and humanitarian aid, than peacekeeping.
But Rumsfeld has cautioned that the campaign is likely to be a long one, and that it will take more than military action to defeat terrorism.
"This problem is not going to be rooted out by a cruise missile," he said in an earlier interview with CNN, on the day after the airstrikes began.
"There are things cruise missiles can do. There are things bombers can do. But there's an awful lot that will have to be done through the financial system, through diplomacy as well as through covert operations on the ground, and particularly, through intelligence-gathering," he said.
In recent days, the defense secretary has expressed satisfaction at the results of the U.S.-led campaign against Taliban and al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan.
At the end of the first week of airstrikes, he said the Taliban's air defenses and communications capabilities had been disrupted, "and we have worked over a number, if not all, of their terrorist training camps."
"We know that we have found some concentration of Taliban and al Qaeda forces, and we know that they are moving -- that their life is more difficult, and the places where they have stayed, some of them have disappeared," Rumsfeld said.
In Thursday's interview, Rumsfeld said it is critical that other nations, especially Muslim nations, understand that the war is not a war against Islam, but a war against terror. He noted that terrorists can strike anywhere at anytime, making it difficult to defend against them.
"The only choice the United States has is to take this effort to the terrorists themselves, and to find them and to root them out, and to stop them from their murderous ways. This is all we are about," he said.
He was asked if there is a risk that the Taliban could remain in place in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden's stature could rise after the U.S. military campaign is over.
"That's not going to happen," he answered.
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