- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday raised the potential of nuclear attack in America, saying terrorist-sponsoring countries "inevitably" would acquire weapons of mass destruction and "would not hesitate one minute in using them."

But he expressed optimism about the main front in the ongoing war on global terrorism. He told a Senate panel that the U.S.-led coalition was making progress in permanently moving Afghanistan from a haven for al Qaeda terrorists to a more stable nation with its own police and armed forces.

Mr. Rumsfeld's stark comments on nuclear, biological and chemical terror comes in the same week that other senior Bush administration officials have warned of future attacks, perhaps similar to those of September 11.

The FBI yesterday issued an alert of potential terrorist attacks aimed at New York City landmarks, including the Statute of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.

The warning, based on intelligence data obtained during interviews with Taliban and al Qaeda detainees, was forwarded to New York authorities by the FBI's joint terrorism task force. Authorities said the information was unconfirmed.

Security was increased around the city's major monuments and landmarks.

Although Mr. Rumsfeld did not single out Iraq in his testimony yesterday before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense, he painted a scenario that matched Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We have to recognize that terrorist networks have relationships with terrorist states that have weapons of mass destruction," he testified, "and that they inevitably are going to get their hands on them and they would not hesitate one minute in using them. That's the world we live in."

The administration is contemplating options for removing Saddam. The justification would be that he continues to violate his agreement with the United Nations to destroy his weapons-making materials. The administration's belief is that Baghdad eventually will share weapons of mass destruction with terror groups such as al Qaeda who would unleash them on America and the rest of the Western world.

"The problem I see, and it's a very serious one, is that there has been a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "The terrorist networks have close linkages with terrorist states, the states that are on the worldwide known terrorist list Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea."

In Afghanistan, about 7,000 U.S. troops are battling al Qaeda and Taliban remnants, while working to stabilize the country. Some Democrats have begun to criticize this phase of the war, claiming Afghanistan is falling into chaos as various warlords vie for power.

"I'm concerned about the reports that there is deterioration in the stability of the establishment of a new government," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. "I'm concerned by the skirmishes that are now taking place, which indicate to me a real resiliency on the part of the Taliban and al Qaeda, that they will in fact try to come back if in fact they can come back."

Mr. Rumsfeld responded that Afghanistan has nearly always been a place of instability, crime, warlords and tribal civil war.

Now, he said, "there is a persuasive indicator that things are more stable there than they were, because refugees are returning. It is nowhere near as stable as here, but it is vastly better place than it was."

On expanding a Kabul-based peacekeeping force to other parts of the country, Mr. Rumsfeld said no country wants the job. "The problem is there's no one stepping up and wanting to do it," he said.

Hours after Mr. Rumsfeld testified, his Afghanistan commander, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, told reporters he wants an initial Afghan national army of 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers put in place in six months to do some missions now conducted by coalition forces.

U.S. Army Green Berets are now training Afghan recruits to form individual units of 600 troops.

"I will not be a 'little Johnny Sunshine' on this thing," Gen. Franks said. "I think we need to be realistic. The desire in building and training an Afghan national army will be to have representation from a great many of these ethnic and tribal groupings in locations in Afghanistan."

Overall, the four-star general said, "There are many signs of positive momentum in the western side of Afghanistan, as there are also up in the north, as well as down in the southwest."

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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