Rumsfeld: More troops aid bombing raids
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was headed home Monday after a five-day visit to Russia, central Asia, Pakistan and India to build international cooperation for the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
Speaking after meeting with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes, Rumsfeld told reporters he was confident the Afghanistan campaign would not take years as other U.S. officials have cautioned.
"There is no question that the effectiveness of the bombing is vastly improved as you have people on the ground in communication with the aircraft overhead," Rumsfeld said. "We now have some larger number of teams of people on the ground ... and the effectiveness of bombing is improving every day."
Rumsfeld said the United States would take "the least possible time" to complete its objectives in Afghanistan. But he reiterated the Bush administration position that the global campaign against terrorism could take a long time.
"This is much bigger than Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said.
Top U.S. officers have said they are beefing up the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan, including deploying more advisers and air controllers to help boost the opposition Northern Alliance.
The Indian government generally has backed the U.S.-led campaign, even though Fernandes has dismissed the airstrikes as a "waste of explosives." Appearing Monday with Rumsfeld, Fernandes did not openly criticize U.S. tactics: "It's the military men who decide military tactics. One should accept what's happening," he said.
Rumsfeld flew to India from Islamabad, Pakistan, after meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and military officials. Musharraf has urged the United States to suspend its air raids during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but Rumsfeld indicated a pause was unlikely.
"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. President Bush also has indicated there will be no scaling down of the military campaign during Ramadan.
Rumsfeld is the latest big-name diplomat to meet with Pakistani and Indian leaders in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. officials have been concerned that rising tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi might disrupt the Afghan campaign.
The emergence of Pakistan as a key U.S. ally has generated widespread unease in New Delhi. India accuses Pakistan of funding and training Islamic militants fighting to end Indian rule in its portion of Kashmir.
Both Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee are due to visit Washington in upcoming weeks. But in a sign of the continuing tension between these two nuclear-armed neighbors, the leaders won't meet each other -- even though they're supposed to be on the same side in the U.S. war on terror.
India said Sunday it had exchanged artillery fire with Pakistan over the Line of Control in Kashmir, and each side has accused the other of massing troops along the U.N.-drawn border.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over the disputed territory. More than 25,000 people have been killed since separatist violence began about 10 years ago.
In addition, some officials have voiced concern over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal should Musharraf be toppled for his pro-American stand. Rumsfeld tried to allay those concerns Sunday.
"I do not personally believe there is a risk with respect to the nuclear weapons of countries that have those weapons," he said. "I think those countries are careful and respectful of the dangers they pose and manage their safe handling effectively."
Rumsfeld said his visit would be followed by a series of high-level military meetings as Washington and New Delhi explore new areas of defense cooperation. India is looking to buy U.S. military technology and develop a strategic partnership with Washington that had begun to emerge before the September 11 attacks.
Rumsfeld's weekend trip also took him to Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
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