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Rumsfeld follows Islamabad talks with visit to India



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld capped a whirlwind, five-nation tour Sunday by flying to the Indian capital New Delhi after several hours of discussions with Pakistani military officials.

Rumsfeld met for several hours in Islamabad with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Pakistani military leaders before leaving for the capital of Pakistan's fiercest rival. Rumsfeld and Musharraf discussed several issues surrounding the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan in Sunday's talks.

Rumsfeld said he and Musharraf discussed the Pakistani president's desire for the United States to suspend its bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins November 17.

Pakistan's leader said Saturday he would not press Rumsfeld for a temporary end to the military campaign by the beginning of Ramadan. While saying he would like the campaign to be short and would prefer an end by Ramadan, Musharraf said he understands it is difficult to set timetables on military objectives.

Rumsfeld said Sunday the United States would take regional concerns into account, but U.S. officials have expressed worry that a reduction in the intensity of the campaign would allow Taliban forces and al Qaeda terrorists to regroup.

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"Our task is to certainly be sensitive to the views in the region, but also to see that we aggressively deal with the terrorist networks that exist," the defense chief said. "Beyond that, I would simply say that we do not want to discuss precisely how we are going to handle the period ahead, other than to say that it is important that the terrorists be stopped."

President Bush also has indicated there will be no scaling down of the military campaign during Ramadan.

Though a longtime supporter of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, Pakistan has provided the United States with logistical support and access to key air bases as U.S. air, sea-based and Special Forces units seek to smash Taliban frontline units in northern Afghanistan and break up the al Qaeda terror network.

As a result, the Taliban's central governing infrastructure has collapsed, Rumsfeld said.

"There is not really a government to speak of in Afghanistan today," he said. "They have weapons and they are using their power in enclaves throughout the country to impose their will on the Afghan people."

The United States has vehemently denied Taliban accusations that it has intentionally targeted civilian areas, causing thousands of deaths. Rumsfeld said the United States is attempting to meet its objectives without incurring significant civilian casualties, and only attacks targets thought to have military value.

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"Never in history has so much care been taken ... by the United States to reduce civilian casualties to the minimum possible, and I think this statement is extremely valuable in view of the news that we see every day alleging increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan," he said.

Rumsfeld said that civilian deaths, if they can be confirmed, may have been caused by ordnance fired from Taliban or opposition Northern Alliance forces: "When there is damage done, it is not always exactly clear what caused the damage."

En route to New Delhi, Rumsfeld told reporters aboard his aircraft that the Taliban were storing ammunition and equipment in mosques, were parking tanks near hospitals and schools, and were "actively lying about civilian casualties taking place in their country."

Rumsfeld's weekend trip also took him to Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. He flew briefly over Afghanistan on his way to Islamabad and observed, "It's tough terrain. You would not want to march around there too long."

He said his five-nation tour did not indicate any change or "ramping up" in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. He said the visits simply represented Washington's efforts to rally support against terrorism.






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