- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

Senior Bush administration officials acknowledged yesterday that Pakistan is supplying covert military assistance to the Taliban militia, but they praised Islamabad's cooperation in the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.

"There is no question but that countries bordering Afghanistan have long histories and relationships and contacts across borders," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "And all I can say is I don't doubt for a minute that there are people in any number of those countries who have relationships and dealings across borders that are unhelpful to us."

Administration officials sidestepped direct comments on the covert military support and whether it is hampering U.S. efforts to oust the ruling Taliban militia.

But Mr. Rumsfeld and other officials sought to highlight official Pakistani government cooperation for U.S. military operations in the region.

The defense secretary commented on a report in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times that said the Taliban militia is getting military and other supplies covertly from Pakistan.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the support includes ammunition and fuel and is being sent with the help of elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence service.

India's ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh, said yesterday that Pakistan is permitting material to be smuggled across its border with Afghanistan to support the Taliban.

"We have been saying this all along," Mr. Mansingh told reporters and editors at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times. "You can't help the United States in the fight against the Taliban in the daytime and then help the Taliban at night."

U.S. officials said intelligence reports showed that the military goods, ammunition and fuel were being shipped to Afghanistan by trucks at night. One major supply route is the highway between Quetta, Pakistan, to the border town of Chaman and then to Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold.

Mr. Rumsfeld said that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his government "are very much allied with us in this effort and have been enormously supportive and helpful."

"To suggest that [the covert military support] is a conscious effort on the part of the government would be a misunderstanding of the situation," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who leaves today on a trip to Russia and possibly Pakistan and Uzbekistan, said he would not disclose what he might discuss with Gen. Musharraf "if and when I go."

Asked about the covert Pakistani military aid to the Taliban, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said at the White House that U.S. officials have had discussions with the Pakistani government on the issue.

"We believe we're getting very good cooperation with the Pakistanis, and that they are doing what they can to avoid the situation you are talking about," Miss Rice said.

The administration is "in constant discussion" with Pakistani officials and "they've had a number of high-level visitors lately."

"They will have more high-level visitors very shortly," she said, in an apparent reference to the trip to the region by Mr. Rumsfeld.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the Islamabad government is trying to curb the covert military supplies from Pakistan to the Taliban. "We have every indication that the Pakistani government would be trying to avoid anything like that happening," Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Rumsfeld also was asked about reports that Pakistani authorities are holding one or two nuclear weapons scientists who are suspected of having ties to the al Qaeda terrorist group.

"I've seen those reports," he said. "The short answer is, we know of certain knowledge that al Qaeda has, over the years, had an appetite for acquiring weapons of mass destruction of various types, including nuclear materials. That's a fact, and am I concerned about it? Of course. Any terrorist network that ends up acquiring weapons of mass destruction, as I've said on other occasions, is a danger to the world, a real danger to the world. Those weapons have the capability of killing many more than thousands into the hundreds of thousands of people."

Mr. Rumsfeld said that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal appears to be under the secure control of the Pakistani government.

Mr. Boucher also said that toppling the Taliban regime will take a long time but that one goal of the U.S.-led military campaign is to see the Islamic extremist militia ousted.

"I think we've been quite clear, the secretary has been quite clear, the president has been quite clear: There's no place for the currently constituted Taliban movement in the future government of Afghanistan, that Taliban leadership that has harbored al Qaeda and these terrorists on Afghan soil needs to be brought to justice or have justice brought to them, as the president said," Mr. Boucher said.

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