Kabul, Afghanistan With stronger assistance from neighboring Pakistan, military operations against the al-Qaida terrorist organization have made new progress, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday.
But Rumsfeld was vague about prospects for capturing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
"One would certainly hope so," said Rumsfeld, who met here with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he wrapped up a weeklong visit to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.
The Pakistani offensive, taking place near the Afghan border, has had some effect on al-Qaida there, Rumsfeld said.
"Clearly there's pressure being put on terrorists all over the world, but most recently, and certainly with a great deal of energy and some success, in Pakistan, for which we are very grateful," he said.
Rumsfeld declined to say whether the Pentagon was shifting more special operations forces from Iraq to Afghanistan to aid in the hunt for bin Laden.
For his part, Karzai declared the Taliban defeated and suggested that much of the violence in his country was caused by criminals rather than guerrilla holdouts.
"The Taliban as a movement does not exist any more," he said.
That view does not square entirely with recent comments by senior American intelligence officials.
Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday that the radical Taliban movement that ruled Afghanistan until it was defeated by American forces in 2001 remains a threat.
"A Taliban insurgency that continues to target humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts is a serious threat, potentially eroding commitments to stability and progress in Afghanistan," Jacoby said.
At a joint news conference with Karzai in Kabul, neither man offered specific hope that the U.S.-led coalition would capture bin Laden soon, despite the fresh offensive in Pakistan.
Rumsfeld seemed to agree with Karzai's view that the Taliban threat is largely gone.
"I'm not seeing any indication the Taliban pose any military threat to Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said.
Karzai suggested that common criminals are the cause of much of the violence in his country.
"Every act committed by a Kalashnikov (rifle) is not an act done by the Taliban or al-Qaida," Karzai said.
Rumsfeld's visit came a day after gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying Afghan aid workers east of Kabul, killing five and wounding two others. Another Afghan aid worker was missing.