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Rumsfeld defends war on terror

Senator calls war 'Operation Enduring Frustration'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld touted the successes of the war on terrorism before a Senate committee Wednesday, but one member of the panel -- a Vietnam War hero -- criticized the effort and dubbed it "Operation Enduring Frustration."

"We gave you the authority to go after those who came after us," said Sen. Max Cleland, D-Georgia, during the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I think it's fine to nation build or liberate Afghanistan. For me, the frustration continues because we still haven't killed or captured Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cadre."

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Rumsfeld responded by saying the United States still has no idea where bin Laden is, or whether the terrorist mastermind is even alive.

"He may be dead, he may be seriously wounded, he may be in Afghanistan, he may be somewhere else," the defense secretary said. "Wherever he is -- if he is -- you can be certain he is having one dickens of a time operating his apparatus."

Rumsfeld emphasized that bin Laden is not critical to al Qaeda's continued threat against the United States because "plenty of people" -- about six to 12 other top al Qaeda leaders -- can fill his shoes.

"They know where the bank accounts are, they know the names of the people who were trained, they know the sleeper cells that exist around the world," Rumsfeld said.

"So the task is not a manhunt for Osama bin Laden, as your question suggests. The task is to find the terrorists wherever they are ... and deal with them and deal with the countries that are providing safe haven to them. And that, we are trying to do."

Cleland then responded, "If we don't know where [bin Laden] is, how can we go after him?"

Cleland -- who lost both legs and an arm to Vietnam combat injuries and later became the Veterans Administration chief during the Carter Administration -- suggested bin Laden was hiding in western Pakistan "where even the Pakistani troops are basically not welcome."

"Aren't we vulnerable then to another attack or his continued organization of an attack against us?" said Cleland. "It troubles me, and I am frustrated that his end is not in sight, nor is the end of his terrorist cadre in sight."

At another point, he said, "For me, Operation Enduring Freedom has become Operation Enduring Frustration."

Rumsfeld said reports of bin Laden hiding in western Pakistan were "pure press speculation" and that if the U.S. government believed he was there, they would take the appropriate steps to get him.

"Do we know where he is, do we have coordinates? No. Are we trying hard? Is intelligence working on it? You bet it is," he said.

"You can be frustrated if you want, I am not. I think we've got a serious effort going on and serious work is being done," Rumsfeld said.

"And the pressure that is being put on those terrorist networks is important, and it's causing them difficulty in all the things they have to do, like raising money and recruiting and retaining people.

"Does that mean there won't be another terrorist attack? No. There may very well be. A terrorist can attack at anytime, anyplace, using any technique."

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, also testified at the hearing.

"Al Qaeda's senior leadership is in disarray. Many of their planners, travel facilitators, and [low-level decision makers] are now dead or have been captured," Franks said.

"Their training facilities in Afghanistan have been destroyed, command and control capabilities have been disrupted and their remaining leaders are -- as the secretary said -- on the run.

"However," Franks added, "al Qaeda has not lost its will to conceive, plan and execute terrorist operations worldwide."



 
 
 
 






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