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U.S.: Rumsfeld Warns Not To Underestimate Terror Threat

Donald Rumsfeld (file photo) (epa) There has been no terrorist attack inside the United States since 11 September 2001, but U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 2 February that there is no reason to think Americans are safe from  further violence. In fact, he said the threat from Al-Qaeda and related groups may be greater than ever.

WASHINGTON, 2 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Rumsfeld said the U.S. defense and intelligence services are doing all they can to prevent new terrorist attacks, and with some success. But he warned the American public not to become complacent.

"The battle -- the true battle -- is a test of wills, and the battleground, the battle space, is less Iraq and less Afghanistan and more here in the United States and in the capitals of Western nations. They operate clandestinely on the Internet, in schools and madrases, through phony charities, through front companies, and with fake passports and false identities. And because they lurk in shadows without visible armies, and are willing to wait long periods between attacks, there's a tendency to underestimate the threat they pose," Rumsfeld said.

In fact, Rumsfeld said, the terrorists' threat today may be greater than ever. He said the U.S. government is working hard to improve the country's defenses, gather critical intelligence and keep unconventional weapons out of the hands of Islamist militants. He said Washington also is helping other nations to fight these groups on their own soil.

Still Has 'Global Reach'

But Rumsfeld said these efforts may not be completely successful -- especially the effort to keep the terrorists from using weapons of mass destruction.

"And though we've made considerable progress in the years since 11 September, the enemy -- while weakened and under great pressure, to be sure -- is still capable of global reach, still possesses the determination to kill more Americans, and is still trying to do so with increasingly powerful weapons," he said.

Ending With a Whimper

The theme of Rumsfeld's speech was that the war against Islamic extremists will be long -- a point he and other senior U.S. officials, as well as President George W. Bush, have made repeatedly since the days that immediately followed the 11 September attacks.

These officials note that this new enemy doesn't wear a uniform, tends to blend in with the civilian population of a region, and often has agents working within the United States. They argue that this dispersed army can't be defeated decisively on a battlefield.

On 2 February, Rumsfeld reinforced that idea, comparing it with the long Cold War. In his comments, he borrowed a line from the American-born British poet T.S. Eliot.

"I think it will end," he said. "The Cold War ended. No one knew when it would or if it would. It took 45 years, but it did end. And this [war against terrorists] will end. I think that it will end not with a bang, it will end with a whimper. It'll fade down over a sustained period of time as more countries in the world are successful [in fighting terrorists]."

The Bush administration has repeatedly said that for now, Iraq is the central front in the war against terrorists. Rumsfeld's view of this war is reflected in a Defense Department review that focuses on more spending on special forces.

There are now about 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The Pentagon has said it hopes to reduce that number to 100,000 or fewer by the end of this year, but only if Iraqi forces can take over the duties of the departing soldiers.