The US campaign in Afghanistan will last for years with more than half of the Taliban leadership still intact, US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz told US troops at this US coalition air base Monday that the campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters would "continue as long as it takes" as he drew a parallel with the decades-long face-off against the Soviet Union.
"It's going to be a long struggle. Maybe not as long as the Cold War, but it does not hurt to think (in terms of) the Cold War."
Wolfowitz, who was due to hold talks later with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, praised the "remarkable" achievements of the US-led coalition since the campaign began last October.
United States Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (R) arrives for a press
conference with Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah at the presidential
palace in Kabul July 15, 2002. Wolfowitz stressed "the fundamental principle that
we are here as an army of liberation." Wolfowitz is in the Afghan capital
for a one-day visit. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim
But he also said that the former Taliban regime and its al-Qaeda allies remained far from finished.
"We have taken out maybe half of the top al-Qaeda and almost half of the Taliban leadership," he said, noting that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden still remained at large along with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Wolfowitz's visit to Bagram coincided with the start of a high-level probe headed by US Major General Anthony Przybyslawski into a US bombing raid on a wedding party in central Uruzgan province two weeks ago.
Wolfowitz expressed his regrets at the loss of civilians in the raid but insisted that the bombing had been prompted by the belief that terrorists were active in the area.
"We have no regrets about going after terrorists or people who harbor terrorists.
We really have very little doubt that there were (such people in that area). It
was a combat zone and bad things happen in a combat zone."
Asked if incidents such as the Uruzgan bombing could alienate Afghan people, Wolfowitz stressed "the fundamental principle that we are here as an army of liberation."
The deputy to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added that the recent assassination of Afghan Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir was a firm reminder of the prevailing instability in Afghanistan.
"This remains a very dangerous place and security of key officials is obviously of enormous importance. After 20 years of civil war, this place is going to have security problems and they are not going to solve them overnight."
Wolfowitz denied that the United States was more eager to pump cash into the military campaign than help fund the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
"The economic side is always slow. It's a lot harder to get economic aid flowing."
© AFP 2002