Donald Rumsfeld makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, where he is set to meet with American and Afghan military personnel as well as President Hamid Karzai.The visit came after Rumsfeld spent Tuesday touring different U.S. military outposts in Pakistan, including facilities set up to aid victims of the October 2 earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people in Pakistan.

At a makeshift medical facility, Rumsfeld praised U.S. soldiers for the work they are doing, noting they are away from their families at the holidays. He also met with Australian troops in Pakistan.Because Rumsfeld was running behind schedule, a planned meeting with Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan staff at Camp Eggers was canceled.

He boarded a UH-60 helicopter and headed straight for the presidential palace to meet with Karzai. The two leaders were to hold a news conference after the meeting.The defense secretary will overnight at Bagram Air Base, officials said.

On Tuesday, Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Pakistan via Shannon, Ireland, that capturing Osama bin Laden is still a priority of the U.S. government, but would not speculate on whether the al Qaeda leader is still alive."I think it is interesting that we haven't heard from him in a year, close to a year," he said.

"I don't know what it means. I suspect that in any event if he's alive and functioning that he's probably spending a major fraction of his time trying to avoid being caught."I have trouble believing that he's able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al Qaeda operation, but I could be wrong. We just don't know."

He also said he had authorized a reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding, from 19,000 to 16,000, largely because of an increase in NATO troops there, reports CNN. I.L.

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