Rumsfeld Reports al-Qaida Captures
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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) _ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had a firsthand look Friday at the cooperation from a new strategic partner in Central Asia _ a foothold for American and allied airpower in the war on terrorism.
After an overnight flight from Washington, Rumsfeld was greeted at the Manas airport 20 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek by Defense Minister Gen. Esen Topov and U.S. Brig. Gen. V. Wayne Lloyd of the West Virginia Air National Guard, commander of the American forces here.
Air forces of seven other allies are based here _ Australia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Spain.
They fly fighter jets, cargo planes and refueling aircraft for missions over Afghanistan.
After a briefing on air operations, Rumsfeld was speaking to an assembly of troops.
In an interview on the flight from the United States, Rumsfeld told reporters that U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are capturing al-Qaida and Taliban fighters ``almost every day, in small numbers.″
The comment indicated that U.S. soldiers are having more regular contact with enemy forces than American officials had suggested in recent weeks. Rumsfeld was not specific about the location of the encounters and did not say whether any senior al-Qaida figures had been killed or captured recently.
He said U.S. and allied troops are finding ``pockets″ rather than concentrations of al-Qaida fighters. However, he declined to comment on news reports that U.S. commanders have expanded the war into neighboring Pakistan by sending small groups of U.S. combat troops on clandestine reconnaissance and attack missions.
``We do not characterize what other countries are doing or what we are doing in other countries,″ he said.
He did acknowledge that ``agencies of the United States government″ other than the Defense Department were involved in the apprehension last month in Pakistan of Abu Zubaydah, the senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who is being interrogated at an undisclosed location.
Rumsfeld said he looked forward to greeting U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan this weekend as well as meeting with coalition commanders and Afghan officials. He said the main focus of his trip would be security issues in Afghanistan. The last time he was in the country, in December, the Taliban militia had just been defeated and the interim government headed by Hamid Karzai had not been installed.
There are nearly 7,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld described the current task of U.S. and allied forces as conducting ``sweeps″ to find small groupings of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters _ ``which we continue to do. They continue to detain people, arrest people, apprehend people almost every day, in small numbers.″
There are about 2,000 U.S. and allied troops based near Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airport at the foothills of the Alatau Mountains near the border with Kazakhstan.
U.S. C-130 cargo planes and KC-135 refueling planes fly in and out of Manas under a deal that Kyrgyz officials welcomed because it provides an opportunity to improve airport facilities and boost security.