Rumsfeld: Military role over when foes 'gone'
From CNN National Correspondent Bob Franken
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri (CNN) -- The U.S. military's role "will be over (in Afghanistan) when the Taliban and al Qaeda are gone," Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld said Friday.
Rumsfeld made the comment to reporters as he flew to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, home of the B-2 Stealth bombers that are being used in the Afghan strikes.
Speaking later at the base, Rumsfeld amplified his earlier comments, saying, "The task in Afghanistan will be over when Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists." So long as Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies are in a position to facilitate terrorist attacks, he said, "the rest of the world is not safe."
"It's our collective task to see that we take care of that threat," he said.
Addressing the men and women of the 509th Bomb Wing, the defense chief thanked them on behalf of the nation for their "difficult" and "dangerous" mission.
"It's an amazing accomplishment, what you folks do here, each time a B-2 bomber lifts off from Missouri, crosses oceans, crosses continents, undetected, to deliver justice from the skies above Afghanistan," he said. "The terrorists thought they could strike fear in America's heartland. But through you, the heartland strikes back."
The secretary refused to discuss reports that U.S. troops are now on the ground inside Afghanistan, except to say that "there are certain things taking place from the air and things from time to time being coordinated with the ground."
Rumsfeld also said the United States has provided food, ammunition, supplies and even money to the opposition Northern Alliance, which is battling the Taliban in several areas of the country.
He said the Taliban are putting up stiff resistance against an attempt by the Northern Alliance to take the strategically important city of Masar-e Sharif. But responding to comments from a Pentagon official that the Taliban have taken heavy losses there, Rumsfeld said, "It would be unwise to think the outcome of the battle could be determined."
In a question-and-answer session with airmen, Rumsfeld was also asked, "What are we going to do about CNN?" which prompted a loud round of applause.
"You know, I'm plucky, but I'm not stupid," Rumsfeld said. "We're going to sit there and praise the First Amendment and the free press and think how lucky we are to live in a free country."
After visiting Whiteman, Rumsfeld was scheduled to continue on to his ranch near Taos, New Mexico.
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