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Donald Rumsfeld is the U. S. secretary of defense. He spoke with
Peter Gruber of FOCUS at the Pentagon for "Global Viewpoint."

QUESTION: Are you surprised at the criticism in Europe and elsewhere about how the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are being treated?

I guess a better word than "surprised" would be
"disappointed." All the criticism is based on the shrill hyperventilation of a few people who didn't know what they were talking about, hadn't seen the situation and hadn't taken the time to understand the situation.

The United States has not, is not and will not mistreat these prisoners. The fact is that their treatment is indeed humane. They are well fed and well taken care of, and are getting excellent medical care.

Might there be more pockets of resistance in Afghanistan?

Not "might" be. There will be.

Q: How confident are you that the United States and its allies can avoid a fate like that of the Soviets when they were in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is a difficult situation. It has a history of tribal wars
and conflict, of preferring that foreigners not be in there. It has a
history of neighboring countries attempting to play off the factions to their advantage. They've had some very serious droughts. There are a lot of internally displaced people, a lot of refugees who are outside the country. There has been a very high level of heroin trafficking. They have a crime level pattern that is higher than many nations.

When you start with that as your base -- and then you drive Al Qaeda and Taliban out of power and they then go into neighboring countries and wait, or they go into the mountains or the villages and wait -- you have to expect there are going to be potentially some very difficult times ahead.

And when you think of how well trained they were and how well financed they were, how determined they are to attack Western interests, it seems to me that anyone who has any sense has to recognize that the situation in Afghanistan remains a dangerous one.

To avoid making the situation worse, we need to make sure that the Afghans understand this is not a war against a religion; it's not a war against the people; that the coalition has freed that country of the repressive Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda invaders, who aren't Afghans at all, who took away people's rights.

Also, we have to make sure it is clear we have no interest in staying in Afghanistan. We don't covet their land, there is nothing we want to extract from them. We want to leave Afghanistan a better place than we found it.

We're spending a whale of a lot of money to try to do that, and we'd prefer that it not relapse into becoming another haven or sanctuary for terrorists that go around the world killing people. We also would hope that the people who leave that country don't find another country as a haven or a sanctuary because we would accomplish precious little by stopping them in Afghanistan and having them reassemble somewhere else.

What is the task ahead for the coalition forces in Afghanistan?

The task for the coalition is to pursue the Al Qaeda and Taliban
wherever they are in that country. And, as they congregate into groups, go after them.

Second is to continue to go after the leadership of Al Qaeda and Taliban.

Third, it is to try to be helpful in training the new Afghan army. The
interim authority has indicated they want to fashion one, and that training is starting now.

Fourth, we need to bring a security presence to the country. Through our activity in the Anaconda operation -- as well as in Bagram, Kabul and Kandahar -- we have contributed to a higher degree of security in the country, which in turn makes it possible for food to be distributed, for hospitals to function, for trucks to come in and out, for aircraft to come in and out without fear of being shot down. All of that contributes to beginning the process of letting that country begin to regenerate itself.

Last, U.S. forces have signed an agreement with the United Kingdom that we would assist the ISAF (U.N.-authorized International Security Assistance Force, the interim authorities) with intelligence, logistics and a quick reaction force in the event that there are serious problems. We have quick reaction capabilities.

Q: When can the United States declare victory? What is the exit strategy?

A: When we achieve the goals I listed -- to see that there is not a
sanctuary for terrorists, to go after the Taliban and Al Qaeda that are still in the country, to train an Afghan army so it can offer some degree of security for its own people -- then we need to get about our business elsewhere in the world and see that no other country becomes a sanctuary for terrorism. What kind of an exit strategy? One way to say it is that when we win, we don't plan to stay.

Beyond this, of course, we'd like to see the interim government followed by a more permanent government that's representative of the people and that can contribute to its reasonably stable situation. Other nations of the world can provide that kind of assistance.

And then we'd like to see that the Afghan authorities continue their policy of being determined to keep terrorists from regaining control of the country and heroin traffickers from supplying a major fraction of all the world's heroin.

How important is it to finally get Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, other senior Al Qaeda leaders?

It's preferable to find them. We're looking for them. I believe we
will find them. But the goal is to stop the terror. That is what we're
about. It would not be so useful if we could capture those two leaders and yet have the terrorists go right on because there are plenty of people in Al Qaeda and Taliban who can pick up the baton and continue the race.

Is it the U.S. role to be the world's policeman with its allies
playing a supportive role?

I don't think the United States is trying to be the world's policeman at all. We have no intention of doing that. We obviously believe in our system. We don't intend to have terrorists or anyone else deny the American people their way of life, which is to live as free people.

But the only way to deal with terrorists is to go and find them where they are because you can't really defend yourself -- in the sense that the advantage is to the attacker who can attack anywhere, any time, using any technique.

The task of the United States is, along with our friends, to see that
people do not go around attaining increasingly horrible weapons with increasingly greater reach and killing increasing numbers of people.

It is a mistake to think of the United States in isolation, separate
from all that is being done. The other day I looked at the ships
participating in the Central Command operations, and there are something like 102 -- and more than half of them were not U.S. ships.

There's an awful lot of talk about the United States, but the fact of
the matter is that a lot of countries have been doing a lot of very fine work, including the United Kingdom and Germany and Australia and Japan and you name it. Twenty, 30 countries. We had all of the liaison people up here on March 11 to the White House. These are the folks who are doing military liaison with the Central Command in Tampa, Florida. I think there were 29 that are intimately involved in what we're doing.

Intelligence is being gathered by 40 different countries -- some quite willing to mention it publicly, and others not terribly willing to have it be known that they're helping. They are all helping to close dozens and dozens and dozens of terrorist-related bank accounts.

Does it matter to America that other countries oppose any plans you may have on Iraq?

A: The president may or may not have plans at some point in the future, and it seems to me it would be very difficult for other countries to even have much of an opinion until such time as he were to make a decision that he wanted to do something with respect to Iraq -- whether it be diplomatic or economic or whatever.

The fact remains that the sanctions leak and imports are getting in
under the guise of dual-use items supposedly for food and shelter that are being immediately turned to military advantage. The question people in the world have to ask is, how do you feel about that? That money is not going to the purchase of food for the people of Iraq. That is for sure.

(c) 2002, FOCUS. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 3/27/02)