U.S. may never catch bin Laden, Rumsfeld says
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. forces may never catch Osama bin Laden, Washington's chief suspect in the Sept 11 attacks, but his Taliban hosts in Afghanistan likely will be toppled, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview published Thursday.
After 18 days of U.S. and British airstrikes on Afghanistan, Rumsfeld told USA Today that it would be very difficult to capture or kill bin Laden, disowned heir to a Saudi construction fortune.
"It's a big world. There are lots of countries. He's got lots of money, he's got lots of people who support him. and I just don't know whether we'll be successful," he said.
Washington accuses bin Laden of having masterminded the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner attacks that killed more than 5,000 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on a flight that crashed in Pennsylvania.
"Yes, I think there will be a post-Taliban Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said. "That is easier than finding a single person."
A Time magazine poll released Oct. 13 showed that 81 percent of Americans considered the capture or death of bin Laden a necessary goal of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
Even if bin Laden were killed, his guerrilla network would carry on, Rumsfeld said. "If he were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist."
Rumsfeld said the Taliban militia was proving to be a formidable foe.
"These are very tough people," he said. "They've made careers out of fighting, and they're not going to roll over."
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeam, a deputy director of operations on the U.S. military's joint staff, told reporters Wednesday he was "a bit surprised" at the Taliban's tenaciousness. But he said airstrikes would go on as long as it took to get rid of them.
"They are proving to be tough warriors," he said. "But we are prepared to take however long is required to bring the Taliban down."
Rumsfeld said toppling the Taliban would not necessarily mean a united Afghanistan with a stable government, USA Today reported. A U.S.-backed faction could control the capital, Kabul, and another -- perhaps even the Taliban -- could control the southern city of Kandahar, he was reported as saying.