- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that al Qaeda and hard-core Taliban fighters are receiving new shipments of equipment to fight American troops and their allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The defense chief said his troops recently discovered a fresh shipment of military gear that was "modern stuff." He declined to identify it. "There's still more money and more new things coming in," he said. Mr. Rumsfeld said he has ordered his commanders to stop destroying all the arms they find and to save the best for the emerging Afghan national army.

In an interview at the Pentagon with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, Mr. Rumsfeld also said it is unlikely that any reform movement in Iraq could rise on its own to topple Saddam Hussein from power. With that statement, he drew a distinction with North Korea and Iran the two other countries in President Bush's "axis of evil."

"It's not likely to collapse internally like another model might be, and it's not likely that there's going to be a large reform movement from the ground, because he kills them off," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "So I think of the three elements of the axis of evil, the one that is the least likely to alter itself in some way is Iraq."

Mr. Rumsfeld talked of progress in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, noting that about 100 countries are contributing to the U.S.-led military campaign. But he signaled that the war will not be over soon. He said al Qaeda and Taliban foot soldiers remain in probably one-third of Afghanistan's 32 provinces.

"We're continuing to press on the Pakistan side, where there's a lot of these folks, and the Pakistani government's been helpful," he said. "We've worked hard on it. Sometimes it works, like the day we hit 11 spots and captured 50 people. Sometimes it doesn't work so well, like earlier this week when some of the Pakistani soldiers got killed."

Ten Pakistanis were killed early Wednesday during raids on enemy hide-outs near the village of Wana.

Despite an intensive eight-month war that has routed most al Qaeda forces from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden's terror network is finding ways to replenish fighters who want to destroy the new Afghan government and kill American troops.

"We have very recently discovered some new stuff that is not old, and it is modern," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It is expensive. It is well-done. When we raided some places, we found I'm not going to say where we found 25 backpacks all well done with the right equipment and modern stuff and professionally done. So it's not like the money's dried up. There's still more money and more new things coming in."

Asked from where the new equipment is coming, he answered, "Everywhere. If you spread it all out, the passports are from lots of different places. The medical equipment and the weapons are from lots of different places."

When asked to better describe the articles, he said, "It's supplies and equipment and medical gear. These people are well-trained and well-financed and well-equipped."

The pattern in Operation Mountain Lion and other searches in Afghanistan has been to find and destroy the al Qaeda-Taliban arsenal.

Now, however, Mr. Rumsfeld wants some weapons saved for an Afghan national force being trained by Army Green Berets.

"They started blowing it all up rather promptly, and I've stopped them," he said. "And we're starting to triage it and get rid of the stuff that's dangerous and unstable, because a lot of it's very old. I've got them stockpiling the rest of it for the Afghan national army."

Mr. Rumsfeld, a former Navy pilot on his second tour as defense secretary, expressed amazement at the number and size of arms caches that built up during Afghanistan's history of war.

"Literally, you can not imagine the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of things armored vehicles and rockets, everything under the sun. Surface-to-air missiles," he said. "There isn't two days that goes by that there isn't another cache discovered someplace of this stuff. It must be from 20 different countries."

On Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld repeated his position that neither sanctions nor U.N. inspectors can prevent Saddam from obtaining the components of weapons of mass destruction.

Asked twice in the interview how the United States can stop the flow of components of weapons of mass destruction from reaching Baghdad, he did not answer directly.

Mr. Bush has threatened Saddam with military action to prevent him from developing weapons that could fall into the hands of terrorists. The military has been drawing up invasion options, and the CIA is looking at ways to disrupt the regime.

Mr. Rumsfeld, while saying his knowledge on the Baghdad regime "is not as good as I'd like to have," expressed doubts that the Iraqi people alone can oust Saddam from power.

"He is a world-class dictator," he said. "He's tough. He's intelligent. He's savvy. He's survived a long time."

But Mr. Rumsfeld said that in Iran there is a "legitimate reform movement" from young people and women oppressed by hard-line Islamic rulers.

"That's the kind of a country that could turn, because of a popular movement away from the extreme positions and the notably unhelpful role in the world that Iran is playing," he said. The United States says Iran is the world's top sponsor of global terrorism.

On North Korea, the reclusive Stalinist state, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "You'd have to say that's a place that is not healthy. It's unhealthy. It's the kind of a thing that could collapse internally, one would think. I'm not predicting that."

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