- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002


The United States is likely to keep troops in Afghanistan for many years to guard against its becoming a haven for terrorists again, the American war commander said yesterday.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, whose Central Command troops are leading the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, made no specific prediction about how long U.S. forces would remain there. Noting that the United States had long-term military commitments in many countries, Gen. Franks singled out South Korea, where tens of thousands of American forces have been stationed for half a century.

"It does not surprise me that someone would say, 'Oh gosh, the military is going to be in Afghanistan for a long, long time.' Sure we will be," Gen. Franks said at a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at his side.

About 8,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan as part of an international coalition that is hunting for remnants of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization and leaders of the Taliban militia that harbored them. The troops also are training an Afghan national army and providing civil services.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a public appearance in Savannah, Ga., yesterday that the global war on terrorism may go on for years.

"It could last years and years, so we must be patient," Gen. Myers told at a conference of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States. He said he is frustrated at the pace of progress but mindful that the goal is to destroy the far-flung al Qaeda network before it attacks Americans again.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he and Gen. Franks met earlier yesterday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and cautioned reporters against "jumping to conclusions" about whether they were working on plans for war in Iraq.

Both men disputed news reports of clashes over how to approach the Iraq problem.

"I have actually never one time sensed animosity" from Mr. Rumsfeld, Gen. Franks said.

The defense secretary said, "From my standpoint, the relationship is superb." He and Gen. Franks, whose headquarters is at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., speak by phone at least once a day, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

In explaining why he expected U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan for many years, Gen. Franks did not indicate that he believed they would continue the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters for long. Instead, he said, the length of the stay will depend on how long it takes the new Afghan government to get on its feet.

"One would expect a maturation of the government inside Afghanistan, one would expect the training of the Afghan national army, border security forces, police forces and so forth, to come along in accordance with a plan," he said. "As those things progress, fewer U.S. troops will be needed."

"We would not be wise to put a timeline on when we see that happening," Gen. Franks added.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the goal is to ensure that Afghanistan becomes capable of providing its own security.

"We didn't go in there to leave in a way that allows it to turn back into a terrorist training camp," he said. A key to preventing that outcome is establishing a unified Afghan army, he said.

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