U.S. troops will stay in Iraq and Afghanistan until stable, democratic governments have taken control, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday.
Rumsfeld said he was traveling to the Persian Gulf and South Asia to thank forces "deeply involved in the successes we've achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan." He also plans to talk to allies in the Gulf about how U.S. military "arrangements and partnerships and cooperation" with those countries will change after the war in Iraq.
Rumsfeld has said that significant changes to the Pentagon's "footprint" in the region could be in store now that Saddam Hussein's military threat has been removed. The defense secretary has denied reports that the United States is considering an arrangement to have permanent access to some bases in Iraq.
Long, dangerous, and difficult work remains in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld told reporters aboard his plane, which stopped in Ireland to refuel. The flight was delayed several hours as workers fixed brake pads on the landing gear that broke during the landing. That problem was expected to delay Rumsfeld's trip by eight or more hours and put the timing of his scheduled stops into question.
"One ought not to think of this as a victory tour," Rumsfeld said, noting that coalition forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan still are coming under sporadic attacks. "The task before us in Iraq will take a lot of focused attention over a period of time."
Rumsfeld said that in Afghanistan he will discuss with Afghan leaders and U.S. military officials a formal declaration that major combat is over. He would not say whether a similar declaration for Iraq is imminent.
A major purpose of the trip is to underline the commitment the United States has to ensuring that Afghanistan and Iraq do not descend into chaos or return to authoritarian rule.
"Our intent is to stay there and work with the international community to help them transition from where they are to where they're going," Rumsfeld said.
In Afghanistan, the United States hopes to quickly send up to six more provincial reconstruction teams into safer areas of the country, Rumsfeld said. Three of the teams, which include 80 to 100 soldiers and humanitarian aid experts, are working in the Afghan areas of Bamiyan, Kunduz and Gardez. The teams are meant to help solidify support for President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul by showing Afghans that government can help make their lives better, Rumsfeld said. That, in turn, will help stabilize the country and reduce the violence, he said.
The United States agreed with proposals from the United Nations and others that the international peacekeeping force in Kabul should be expanded throughout the country, Rumsfeld said. But no nations with enough forces to do the job came forward to do that, he said.
"The people recommending it were mostly on editorial boards (of newspapers) and in the United Nations, but they didn't have any troops," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that the area along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan was still unstable and dangerous. Two U.S. soldiers died from wounds suffered in a battle Friday with rebel fights.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 American troops are in Afghanistan, part of a coalition force of around 11,000 to 12,000. In Iraq, where about 135,000 American troops are, coalition forces are rounding up former government officials nearly every day, Rumsfeld said.
Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister who turned himself in to U.S. forces in Baghdad on Thursday, is being questioned.
"I've seen one debrief of Tariq Aziz, and it's too early to know if he will be helpful," Rumsfeld said.