- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday there will be no deals to protect Taliban leaders or foreign terrorists fighting in Afghanistan.
"The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "Nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners."
Mr. Rumsfeld said he hopes the several thousand foreign terrorists and others engaged in fierce fighting near the northern city of Kunduz will not be allowed to escape.
"The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner."
U.S. warplanes yesterday conducted strike missions against Taliban positions in northern and southern Afghanistan on the 44th day of the bombing campaign.
President Bush, meanwhile, said the United States and its allies are closing in on terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"We're hunting him down," Mr. Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. "He runs and he hides, but as we've seen repeatedly, the noose is beginning to narrow, the net is getting tighter."
U.S. and British special forces commandos yesterday continued the search for bin Laden, believed to be in the southern part of the country.
Mr. Rumsfeld said a reward of $25 million has been offered to anyone who helps capture bin Laden and other terrorists in Afghanistan. He said several hundred U.S. Special Forces troops are on the ground as part of the hunt for bin Laden chief suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
A Northern Alliance spokesman in neighboring Tajikistan said forces stopped shelling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters near Kunduz yesterday in an effort to negotiate the surrender of the surrounded Taliban units.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said U.S. warplanes on Sunday carried out 138 attack sorties in a round-the-clock campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The discussions between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces came amid reports that the pro-Taliban fighters were killing their own in an attempt to prevent defections or surrenders.
"Every day the Northern Alliance reinforces its siege of Kunduz. The alliance is trying to carry out talks with the Taliban in Kunduz, so that they will lay down their weapons and surrender," Ariyonfard Shamsulkhak, press attache at the Northern Alliance Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, told the Associated Press.
"If the Taliban do not lay down their weapons, then the fighting will begin. There is no other way out. And then, unfortunately, another city will be sacked," Mr. Shamsulkhak said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said discussions for a surrender of Taliban forces are continuing in Afghanistan, but the United States hopes "they will not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of al Qaeda forces; that would provide for the release of foreign nationals, non-Afghans, leaving the country and destabilizing neighboring countries, which is not your first choice either."
Asked if the opposition forces in the south reached a deal that would allow Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to leave his base in Kandahar, Mr. Rumsfeld stated bluntly: "If the thrust of that question is would we knowingly allow him to get out of Kandahar, the answer is, no we would not."
Mr. Rumsfeld said fighting between southern tribes and Taliban forces in Kandahar is "still a standoff."
"There are southern tribes that are applying pressure and engaged in discussions and there is firing and the coalition forces have provided some air support," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States hopes its large rewards and use of special operations commandos will lead to the capture of al Qaeda leaders.
"Our hope is that the dual incentive of helping to free that country from a very repressive regime and to get the foreigners in the al Qaeda out of there, coupled with substantial monetary rewards, will incentivize a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves, looking for the bad folks," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Without large numbers of troops on the ground, the United States cannot accept surrendering forces, Mr. Rumsfeld said. "If people try to, we are declining," he said.
The defense secretary cautioned reporters that the battle to defeat the terrorists and their supporters was not over and would be long and difficult.
"I also want to emphasize that as enemy leaders become fewer and fewer, it does not necessarily mean that the task will become easier," he said. "People can hide in caves for long periods, and this will take time."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the commandos have helped aircraft locate targets, reported on enemy troops and blockaded roads in the search for fleeing Taliban leaders and al Qaeda leaders.
"The war on terrorism is still in its early stages," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Perseverance and will and patience and sacrifice is going to be required in the months ahead, and while the nature of what's taking place is changing, it is going to be no less difficult."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the CIA also has been working closely with military officials in Afghanistan.


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