- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

BAGRAM, Afghanistan Under extraordinary security, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday thanked U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan for sending the message that terrorist acts would not go unpunished.
The World Trade Center "is still burning as we sit here, they're still bringing bodies out. Fortunately, the caves and tunnels at Tora Bora are also burning," said Mr. Rumsfeld, the highest level U.S. official to visit Afghanistan in more than a quarter-century.
U.S. forces are working with the Afghan opposition is searching the caves and tunnels in Tora Bora for members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and their leader, Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Rumsfeld told the Americans that the United States needed to send a message that terrorist acts would not go unpunished. "That is in fact your assignment," he said.
Later yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld and Afghanistan's interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, talked about the course of the war and plans for Afghanistan's future. The pair met in the ruins of a bombed-out building near Bagram airfield and sat on folding chairs.
Afghanistan's incoming government takes office Saturday.
The defense secretary told reporters traveling with him that it was important for him to meet with the country's new leaders for a chance "to sit down face-to-face to talk about what has been done and what's left to be done and there's a good deal left to be done."
"We want to make sure that we are all on the same wavelength as to what's left to be done," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He said an international security force for Kabul, the capital, would number between 3,000 and 5,000. The United States is prepared to offer help to the security force, including providing intelligence, airlift support and a rapid-reaction force if something goes wrong.
Troops Mr. Rumsfeld addressed at an air base near Afghanistan, which included members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, asked him to assess the chances of catching bin Laden.
"Believe me, we're looking," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he was making his trip to the region, which included visits to several former Soviet republics, to meet with Afghanistan's new leaders and to visit U.S. troops and commanders.
He described a conversation with a U.S. special operations soldier, who showed Mr. Rumsfeld the saddle he used earlier in the war, as he called in air strikes from horseback while with Northern Alliance fighters.
"We get a chance to talk to real people who are doing real things that are part of our plan and there's no question that that's helpful," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary's trip also has taken him to three small nations Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia with strategic locations at the crossroads of Central Asia and Russia with whom the United States hopes to strengthen military ties. All three have offered to let U.S. warplanes fly over their countries during the fighting in Afghanistan.
Later, Mr. Rumsfeld was to go on to a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels.
Early yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld said items recovered from an abandoned terrorist training camp in southern Afghanistan are being tested for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
He said U.S. troops' weekend discovery at the deserted al Qaeda camp yielded a large and significant amount of documentation and other items that are interesting to the United States. He said tests are searching for traces of chemical, biological and radiological material, but would not describe what was recovered in more detail.
The Tarnak Farms camp, located only a few miles east of the U.S. military's remote desert base about 70 miles from Kandahar, is on a list of more than a dozen locations troops want to investigate, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

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