Rumsfeld: Afghan 'turmoil' endangers U.S. forces
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite speedy, convincing gains by opposition forces across Afghanistan, "a good deal of turmoil in the country" endangers Americans and others fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told CNN on Friday.
"It's entirely possible there are going to be more Americans killed," Rumsfeld said in an interview on CNN's Novak, Hunt and Shields, to be broadcast Saturday. The danger, he said, comes from "small pockets" of Taliban rather than any large counteroffensive.
The war will continue at least as long Taliban ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar -- described by Rumsfeld as likely a "dead-ender" willing to rally his troops to the end -- retains control over his forces, the secretary said.
"I can assure you that the United States would vigorously oppose any idea of providing him amnesty or safe passage of any type," Rumsfeld said in the daily Pentagon briefing Friday.
Sources in Kandahar told CNN the city was under round-the-clock bombardment, but saw no sign of an advance by anti-Taliban forces. U.S. commanders do not know how many Taliban combatants remain in the city, said Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"There has not yet been a major ground offensive battle," Pace said. "There are, we know, negotiations going on between the opposition forces and the Taliban leadership for surrender. "
In addition, about 1,000 U.S. Marines are now stationed at a base southwest of Kandahar, putting additional pressure on the remaining Taliban forces, Pace said.
U.S. aircraft on Thursday flew 152 missions, with about 60 percent of the flights pursuing what the military calls "emerging" targets, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said. Most of the targets were located around Kandahar and Jalalabad, where Afghan guerrillas have built an extensive series of caves and tunnels over 20 years of war.
Rumsfeld said no senior al Qaeda or Taliban officials are in U.S. custody "as of this moment, to my knowledge." But he added, "We would want al Qaeda people not to be set free."
"We would do everything reasonable to see that we had access to those people, first to interrogate them and find out who they are and, second, if they are people that we believe we want, to actually get physical custody over them," he said.
News reports earlier this week indicated that al Qaeda member Ahmed Omar Abdel Rahman, thought to be the son of an Egyptian Muslim cleric convicted of planning attacks on New York landmarks in 1995, had been captured by Northern Alliance forces. Top Northern Alliance officials told CNN they had no information on such a capture, but that it was possible he was taken in another part of the country and the information simply had not filtered through yet to senior ministers.
"They have thousands of people in a variety of locations spread across Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said. "They are people who, for the most part, don't walk up and volunteer their names and identification numbers with a sample of DNA. What they do is, they blend into the other prisoners."
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