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U.S. Defense Secretary Calls For Military Ties with India

By Vernon Loeb

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called today for closer military ties with India and thanked senior Indian officials for help in the war on terrorism, saying that increased U.S. troops designating targets on the ground in Afghanistan have greatly enhanced the effectiveness of air strikes.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a five-country trip after meeting with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandez, Rumsfeld also expressed optimism that the war against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia and Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network could be won relatively quickly.

"Do I think that Afghanistan will take years? No I don't," Rumsfeld said at a press conference. "It is something that is being addressed very aggressively. How long it can take can't be known."

Later, on his plane returning to Washington, Rumsfeld told reporters that the number of U.S. Special Forces troops in Afghanistan increased by 2 1/2 times over the weekend. Those forces are now operating in more than four locations, mostly in northern Afghanistan, with more troops to come soon, he said.

As to whether troops are on the ground in southern Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said: "We've had people in the south. They've gone in and come out, and I can't answer the question at any given moment."

In the interview, Rumsfeld disclosed that the Pentagon has lost two Predator reconnaissance drones over Afghanistan due to icing problems. "They were not shot down," he said.

Rumsfeld also provided extensive new detail about a helicopter rescue mission in southern Afghanistan on Friday, saying that a helicopter crew dispatched to rescue an ill serviceman crash landed after hitting "a weather situation that was just like a wall" and spent about six hours on the ground before being rescued themselves.

"It was very bad weather, a front of some sort," Rumsfeld said. "They were headed in and decided they simply could not go through that wall of weather, so they had to set down, and they set down where they were, I suppose you'd call it an emergency landing, and there were four people who had back injuries from the severity of the landing."

Rescue helicopters sent from two locations also had to turn around in the storm.

"You never know what's going to happen," Rumsfeld said. "We're sending in rescue helicopters and then they have to turn because of weather. At one point there was a report that [downed crew members] were going to start walking seven miles to a landing site, but of course they had four people that were injured. It turned out they did not have to walk very far and it also turned out that there were no Taliban forces who found them while they were there."

The crew was ultimately picked up by a companion helicopter that had flown in with them and had also made an emergency landing due to the weather. "Apparently what happened, the weather moved through, and the other helicopter was there was able to get back and pick up" the crew. The downed helicopter was then destroyed with munitions dropped by two F-14s.

Rumsfeld said he first learned of the stranded crew on his way to Moscow on Friday at the start of a four-day trip that also took him to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India.