Jewish World Review June 28, 2002 / 18 Tamuz, 5762

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Rumsfeld: Al Qaida getting new weapons -- (UPI) Despite a nearly 10-month war on political, financial and military fronts, al Qaida and Taliban forces are finding ways to get additional equipment, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Washington Times.

In an interview Thursday at the Pentagon with editors and reporters from the Washington Times, Rumsfeld said recent raids by U.S. forces on al Qaida and Taliban caches in Afghanistan have uncovered equipment that was obviously recently obtained by suspected terrorists.

"We have recently discovered some new stuff that is not old and it is modern," Rumsfeld said. "It is expensive. It is well done. When we raided some places we found, I'm not going to say where, we found 25 backpacks all well done with the right equipment and modern stuff and professionally done.

"So it's not like the money's dried up. There's still more money and more new things coming in."

U.S. officials said al Qaida, under the guidance of Osama bin Laden, was responsible for the Sept 11 hijackings and deaths of more than 3,000 people in New York. Washington and Pennsylvania. In trying to capture bin Laden, the United States demanded that the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan, where bin Laden had found refuge, hand over the Saudi dissident.

When the Taliban refused, the United States on Oct. 7 started its war on terrorism with a military campaign that chased the Taliban from power. U.S. officials, with several other countries taking similar action, also ordered the freezing of assets thought to be supporting or owned by al Qaida. While millions of dollars in cash was locked away from al Qaida, it was recently revealed that the group had converted much of its monetary worth to precious metals and gems, effectively skirting the freeze.

Rumsfeld's comments to the Washington Times marked the first confirmation that those assets were still being turned into materiel.

He said: "Literally, you cannot imagine the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of things -- armored vehicles and rockets, everything under the sun. Surface-to-air missiles. There isn't two days that go by that there isn't another cache discovered someplace of this stuff. It must be from 20 different countries."

The Washington Times asked Rumsfeld where the equipment originated and he said, "Everywhere."

"It's supplies an equipment and medical gear. These people are well-trained and well-financed and well-equipped," he said.

In the first part of the campaign, U.S. troops immediately destroyed any equipment they found, but Rumsfeld said he ordered a stop to that practice. Newer equipment that is captured, Rumsfeld said, will be saved for use by the military force being developed by the Afghanistan government. The older, unstable munitions will be destroyed.

Also in the interview, Rumsfeld said he wanted to keep any defense-related construction outside of 100 miles of the Pentagon, saying, "Concentration of Defense Department activities in a single area is probably not a smart idea."

While that idea is yet to become government policy, defense officials told the Washington Times that the decentralization effort is to limit disruption of government activities in case of another terrorist attack on the Washington area. If implemented, the newspaper said, some $570 million in military construction in the Washington area could be affected.

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© 2002, UPI