Rumsfeld says U.S. has bombed suspected weapons of mass destruction sites in Afghanistan
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Osama bin Laden likely has some chemical or biological weapons, and U.S. forces have bombed some sites in Afghanistan that could have been involved in producing them, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday.
Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials said they doubt bin Laden’s al-Qaida network has a nuclear weapon, as bin Laden told a Pakistani journalist in a recent interview.
“I think it’s unlikely that they have a nuclear weapon, but on the other hand, with the determination they have, they may very well,” Rumsfeld said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The defense secretary and other officials said they were worried, however, that al-Qaida network could have weapons of mass destruction that possibly include radiological weapons – mixtures of conventional explosives and nuclear material designed to spread radiation without a nuclear detonation.
“We have every intelligence operation practically in the world on the problem of al-Qaida and the Taliban and their weapons of mass destruction at this point,” the president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The United States has identified several sites in Afghanistan where al-Qaida may have been producing weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld said. Some of them have been bombed, some of have not and others have not been found, he said.
“If we had good information on a chemical or biological development area, we would do something about it,” Rumsfeld said on CBS. “It is not an easy thing to do. We have every desire in the world to prevent the terrorists from using these capabilities.”
Getting information that a site may be producing weapons of mass destruction “faces you with a situation, are you best taking it out or are you best learning more about it,” Rumsfeld said earlier on “Fox News Sunday.”
The New York Times reported Sunday that the United States had identified three possible chemical or biological weapons sites in Afghanistan used by al-Qaida, and had avoided bombing them.
President Bush has said the anti-Taliban northern alliance should not take over the Afghan capital of Kabul, preferring to wait for a broad-based, post-Taliban government can be formed. Rumsfeld said that was important to encourage anti-Taliban resistance by some tribes of the Taliban’s Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan’s south.
The northern alliance is largely made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, not Afghanistan’s main Pashtun ethnic group.
“We need them to oppose the Taliban, so they will have a voice in post-Taliban business,” Rumsfeld said.
An official with the northern alliance said Sunday that “it would be ideal” if a broad coalition of all ethnic groups could come together before Kabul is taken. Abdullah, the opposition’s foreign minister, said the alliance already includes some Pashtun forces.
The United States has had difficulty recruiting anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s south. The Taliban captured and executed opposition Pashtun figure Abdul Haq last month, for example.
Besides, Rumsfeld said, “Kabul is not the military prize of prizes.” The Taliban’s capital is in the southern city of Kandahar, and Kabul has been so devastated by two decades of war that its 1 million people will need immediate humanitarian aid when the city changes hands, Rumsfeld said.
“The real prize of prizes is the Taliban leadership and the al-Qaida leadership and the al-Qaida fighting forces and the Taliban fighting forces,” Rumsfeld said. “And they are not, for the most part, in Kabul.”
Anti-Taliban forces have control of the key northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, but are facing pockets of resistance from Taliban and al-Qaida forces, as well as foreign Taliban supporters, Rumsfeld said. The city’s main airport is not yet completely secured by the northern alliance, he said.
Taliban convoys are streaming out of the city and are being attacked by the U.S. from the air and by the northern alliance from the ground, Rumsfeld said. More than 200 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting around Mazar-e-Sharif, he said.
The northern alliance also is “putting pressure” on the cities of Herat in the northwest and Taloqan in the northeast, Rumsfeld said. Northern alliance forces said Sunday they had captured Taloqan, their former headquarters; the Taliban denied that claim.
Rumsfeld and Rice echoed comments by Bush, who has said he believes al-Qaida would use any chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons it has.
“They are not worried about loss of life,” Rumsfeld said.
He said that even if al-Qaida has biological or chemical agents, it may lack the expertise to use them.
U.S. officials have said they believe al-Qaida has access to crude chemical weapons such as chlorine and phosgene poison gases, but not more complex weapons such as sarin.