- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said huge numbers of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan would not have helped the search for Osama bin Laden, who remains on the loose 100 days after the war in Afghanistan began.
"I think that you look at the pros and cons of those two approaches and it seems to me it's unambiguous, that we had the right approach," the defense chief said.
Television pundits in recent weeks have criticized Gen. Tommy Frank's decision to limit the U.S. ground presence to less than 4,000 combatants. The analysts contend that Army divisions in the Tora Bora region, for example, could have plugged escape routes for bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters and perhaps caught the accused terror mastermind himself last month. Early in the campaign, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a Vietnam War hero, urged President Bush to mount a ground invasion.
But Mr. Rumsfeld said a large invasion force would have done more harm than good.
"I've thought a good deal … about the question as to how might we have affected the task of finding certain individuals with more or less people physically on the ground in Afghanistan," the defense secretary said in a session with Pentagon radio reporters. "I've concluded that when you balance the pros and cons of that, that it would not have been helpful. That is to say, you can have hundreds of thousands of people on the ground and they end up occupying a specific area. They don't occupy the whole country. Then they move across the country and they end up forcing people out and away."
Mr. Rumsfeld and the White House have tended to play down the importance of catching the man they hold responsible for the September 11 attacks on America. They say the top priority is demolishing international terrorist cells.
But privately, officials acknowledge disappointment in not collaring bin Laden by now. They say there cannot be full victory in Afghanistan until he is killed or captured.
Intelligence officials firmly believe bin Laden was in a complex of caves in the Tora Bora region shortly before anti-Taliban forces overran the area in mid-December. Commandos detected his voice on a short-range radio around Dec. 11 during a fierce U.S. bombing campaign. But when the smoke cleared Dec. 17, bin Laden had vanished.
Officials now believe he is moving in a vast no-man's land along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border near and in the Taliban-friendly province of Paktia.
Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday he gets varied intelligence reports on bin Laden's location, as well as that of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
"The fact is that we're looking," he said. "We have been looking. And we intend to keep on looking not just for those two individuals but for their senior associates."
In making his argument against a ground invasion, Mr. Rumsfeld also said Afghanistan has a history of being anti-foreigner. Afghans fought domination by the Soviets until Moscow withdrew all troops in the late 1980s.
With a large American military presence, he said, "you might very well find yourself with an awful lot of opposition to you and hostility and fear that you're going to come in and try to occupy their land or take their land."
The Taliban, meanwhile, would have been saying that "they obviously are coming in to take your country," Mr. Rumsfeld said, "in which case you would have gotten everyone in Afghanistan against you as opposed to just the Taliban and the al Qaeda."
The Bush administration, through field commander Gen. Franks, has achieved two major goals: ousting the terrorist-supporting Taliban from power and smashing al Qaeda terrorist operations inside Afghanistan. The two were accomplished largely through precision air strikes, and scores of Army Special Forces soldiers organizing anti-Taliban tribes in the north and south.
"You have to find a way to do that that is the least offensive and would elicit the most cooperation," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And we've been doing that."

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