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Rumsfeld: Don't Assume Iraq's Secure

Rumsfeld: Don't Assume Iraq's Secure

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LONDON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that although major fighting in Iraq is over, it would be "a terrible mistake" to assume the war-torn nation is secure.

A day after President Bush went to a U.S. aircraft carrier to proclaim success in ousting President Saddam Hussein, the defense secretary urged caution and said much remains to be done.

"It is dangerous," Rumsfeld said of the situation in Iraq. "There are people who are rolling hand grenades into compounds, there are people who are shooting people and it is not finished."

"The president said that we have moved from period of major military conflict to a period of stabilization," the secretary said.

Rumsfeld, who joined British counterpart Geoff Hoon at a news conference here, also said it was too early -- "there are so many variables" -- to say how long U.S. forces will have to remain in Iraq and how many troops will be involved. But he did say he favored the United Nations having a some role in reconstruction efforts.

Asked about the fate of Saddam, Hoon said, "Certainly, we will continue our investigations to either prove that he's dead or he can be brought to account."

Rumsfeld, who also planned to meet with King Abdullah of Jordan, was asked how strong a U.S. military presence would be required in coming weeks and months.

"We don't know. Indeed, it's not knowable," he replied. "What we do know is we'll have as many forces in the country as is necessary" to ensure a secure environment.

In Afghanistan Thursday, Rumsfeld declared an end to major combat after more than 18 months of fighting in the first front on the war on terrorism. A day earlier in Iraq, Rumsfeld toured one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces and met with U.S. and British troops to thank them for their efforts.

Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq later Thursday, saying, "We have removed an ally of al-Qaida and cut off a source of terrorist funding."

Speaking Thursday in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Rumsfeld said most of the country was safe for rebuilding work.

"We're at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and reconstruction," Rumsfeld said at a joint news conference with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. But, he added, "There are still dangers."

U.S. officials said the announcement was meant to prod reluctant allies into sending more experts, money and equipment to help rebuild Afghanistan. Some allies have said they wanted a declaration of an end to major combat before they send more aid.

Rumsfeld said the United States hopes to add more "provincial reconstruction teams," groups of 80 to 100 that include troops and military and civilian reconstruction experts. Three teams are working on projects such as building schools and digging water wells in Gardez, Bamiyan and Kunduz.

Officials plan to send new teams by the end of the year to Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Parawan.

"Militarily, we've got the upper hand and we're going to keep the upper hand," said Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the 8,000 or so American troops still in Afghanistan. "I think the international community has got to make a bolder step in reconstruction."

McNeill said he hoped the United States could begin pulling troops out of the country by the end of summer 2004, when officials planned to have trained 9,000 to 12,000 troops for the multiethnic Afghan National Army.

Rumsfeld compared the situation in Afghanistan with that in Iraq, which he visited on Wednesday.

"In Iraq, we were dealing with an army, as opposed to a terrorist situation," Rumsfeld said.

He said clearing out pockets of resistance in Afghanistan has taken longer because the United States has fewer troops there and the country's porous borders have allowed Taliban and al-Qaida loyalists to regroup and re-enter the country.

McNeill said the most dangerous area in Afghanistan is along the border with Pakistan. He said the fighters that have attacked Afghan and U.S. forces recently are supporters of the former Taliban government and possibly members of the al-Qaida terror network.

"I think we'll continue to have some problems in the border areas, but for most of the country, it's in the best shape it's been in 10 years," McNeill said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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