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Daschle says war fails if bin Laden not found

From Jonathan Karl and Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Thursday that the United States will have failed in the war on terrorism unless it finds Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Daschle, D-South Dakota, also said he will need more information before going along with any expansion of the war.

"Clearly, we've got to find Mohammed Omar, we've got to find Osama bin Laden, we've got to find other key leaders of the al Qaeda network or we will have failed," Daschle said.

"I think that it is critical that we keep the pressure on; we do the job that this country is committed to doing," he said. "But we are not safe until we have broken the back of al Qaeda, and we haven't done that yet."

His words were among the sharpest to date from a top Democrat on the U.S. war on terrorism. Democrats have been careful to withhold criticism of the Bush administration's war effort.

Daschle was responding to a question about whether the war's success has been overstated. He said that although he would not "second-guess what has been done to date ... the jury is still out on future success."

The White House disagreed with the Senate majority leader's assessment.

"The president has said repeatedly this is about much more than any one man," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said when asked about Daschle's comments.

"That's where the president is focused," Fleischer added. "Individuals are free to focus on any one person if they think that's the best way to conduct foreign policy. That's a different approach than the president has."

Al Qaeda is "far less capable" of carrying out operations than it had been before the war was launched, Fleischer said, explaining the Bush administration's position at a news briefing.

Fleischer said Bush "has no doubts" about the success of the war. "The president believes ... it will continue to be a success, thanks in good part to the bipartisan support he's had from members of Congress."

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, had an angry response to Daschle's words.

"How dare Sen. Daschle criticize President Bush and our war on terrorism, especially when we have U.S. troops on the ground," Lott said through his spokesman. "Our country is united, and Sen. Daschle should not attempt to divide us."

A Daschle spokeswoman insisted the Democratic leader did not intend to send a message or to criticize the White House. She said he fully supports the president and the war on terrorism and insisted there is "no daylight between him and the president."

"He was not saying anything the administration has not said -- that we need to find these guys," said spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer.

But Daschle, echoing recent comments by Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, also questioned the future direction of the war and said he wants more information before Congress devotes additional money.

"Before we make commitments in resources, I think we need to have a clear understanding of what the direction will be," Daschle said.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Byrd, D-West Virginia, questioned the mission and the money spent on the war.

"We went to Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists, but we do not know where Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar are hiding," Byrd said. "Now the president has committed our country to build an Afghan national army and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild that country."




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