WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States may not be able to catch terrorist Osama bin Laden even though he predicts the Taliban regime harboring him in Afghanistan will be toppled.
"Yes, I think there will be a post-Taliban Afghanistan," Rumsfeld told USA Today. "That is easier than finding a single person."
Rumsfeld told the paper it will be "very difficult" to capture or kill bin Laden.
"It's a big world," he said. "There are lots of countries. He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him and I just don't know whether we'll be successful. Clearly, it would be highly desirable to find him."
But he said in any event bin Laden's terrorist network would carry on without him. "If he were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist."
Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that rooting out terrorism is a long-term project that will last for years and has compared it to the Cold War, which lasted half a century.
His interview with USA Today appeared in Thursday's editions.
Meanwhile, top Pentagon officials say Afghanistan's Taliban could be planning to poison food aid intended for the Afghan people.
Defense Department officials have called the Taliban liars for weeks and officials pointed to several specifics Wednesday as evidence of that.
A Taliban-organized tour of bombing damage in eastern Afghanistan last week could have been an attempt to draw airstrikes on Western journalists, a senior defense official speaking on condition of anonymity told reporters. A sign in English saying "No weapons" posted outside an Afghan women's shelter also could be an attempt to deceive, the official said.
The official also said the Taliban were deliberately moving troops and weapons into or near civilian areas. He showed pictures of an airfield near Herat with a crater near a building he identified as a mosque. A helicopter had been parked outside the mosque, but U.S. airstrikes destroyed the chopper without hurting the religious site, the official said.
At a Pentagon news conference, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said U.S. intelligence sources indicate the Taliban might poison relief supplies and blame it on the United States.
"We are confident in the information that we have that they may intend to poison one or more types of food sources and blame it on the Americans," Stufflebeem said. "We are releasing this information preemptively so that (Afghans) will know if the food comes from Americans, it will not be tainted."
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