WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — The United States is positioning military forces around the world to fight a war on terrorism that will involve more than Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday.
Speculation about military action has centered on Afghanistan, where Taliban rulers have sheltered militant Osama bin Laden, suspected by the United States of being linked to the devastating Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
U.S. officials have stressed that rooting out terrorism will not be achieved by a quick military strike, but will require efforts through many channels, including diplomatic and financial, in many countries.
“What we’ve been doing since the day of the attack is getting our forces positioned in various places around the world,” Rumsfeld said on CBS television’s “Face the Nation.”
“This is not an Afghan problem. This is a worldwide problem of terrorist networks,” he said, noting that bin Laden’s organization, al Qaeda, operates in at least 60 countries and is just one of many extremist networks.
The U.S. military is in the midst of its biggest mobilization since the 1991 Gulf War, with B-1 and B-52 bombers, dozens of fighters and support aircraft ordered to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean region, along with elite Special Operations troops.
Rumsfeld signed a second deployment order late Saturday for mainly support and logistics personnel and equipment, defense officials said on condition of anonymity.
AWAITING PRESIDENTIAL WORD
“What we’ve been doing is getting our capabilities located, positioned, arranged around the world so that at that point where the president decides that he has a set of things he would like done, that we will be in a position to carry those things out,” Rumsfeld said.
When asked whether the United States had ruled out using nuclear weapons, Rumsfeld said that historically, “the United States, to my knowledge, has never ruled out the use of nuclear weapons.” But he did not suggest the intention was to use such weapons.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said nuclear weapons were unnecessary and highly unlikely, given the precision weapons available to fight the kind of threat that involved “specific small groups of people in remote places.”
Rumsfeld said the new war on terrorism would require non-traditional combat methods, where freezing bank accounts, gathering scraps of intelligence, and convincing countries to stop harboring extremists could have more success than a cruise missile strike.
“Is it likely that an aircraft carrier or a cruise missile is going to find a person? No, it’s not likely. That isn’t how this is going to happen,” Rumsfeld told reporters after his television appearance.
He said he was never convinced that bin Laden’s network had acted alone, and that it must have had outside help, possibly from other countries.
“There’s no way in the world that a network can function as effectively over such a long period of time, with such excellent finances and false passports and all of the intelligence information they had to have, without them being … assisted and financed by states and by businesses and by nongovernmental organizations and by corporations,” he said.
U.S. officials have said there was no overwhelming evidence so far that Iraq was linked to the attack, but others say that angle should be investigated.
When asked whether the United States should go after Iraq, Rumsfeld would only say, “I think the president has a set of decisions and calculations he has to make.”
McCain said Afghanistan was the first priority, and then Washington should look at whether other countries were aiding extremists.
“I think first you take care of the Afghanistan situation, and then you move on to other areas depending on what happens in those countries,” he said on the same CBS program.
Rumsfeld said the United States was receiving help from countries and individuals that in some instances were ”surprising” and that would be key to the outcome.
The United States has also received “everything from Saudi Arabia that we have asked them to do,” he said.
Rumsfeld confirmed that the U.S. military had lost contact with an unmanned spy plane, but he told reporters he had no reason to believe it had been shot down.