WASHINGTON – The United States faces "a long, hard slog" in the fight against Al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a pointed memo raising questions about the future of the war on terrorism.
Rumsfeld said the U.S.-led coalitions would win in Afghanistan and Iraq, but so far have had mixed results. He wrote that the United States "has made reasonable progress in capturing or killing the top 55 Iraqis" but has made "somewhat slower progress" tracking down top Taliban leaders who sheltered Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
"My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?" Rumsfeld wrote.
The defense secretary also raised the possibility of creating a new team or agency in the federal government specifically to fight terrorism worldwide.
The Pentagon released a copy of the memo, dated Oct. 16 and first reported by USA Today on Wednesday. The memo was addressed to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search), Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers (search) and two of their deputies. In it, Rumsfeld offered a much more stark assessment of the global war on terrorism than he often gives publicly.
"It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog," he wrote.
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (search), Joe Biden of Delaware, said the memo "is a little different than the sort of self-assurance that was communicated to us in Congress."
"This is the first sort of introspection that I have even whiffed coming out of the civilian side of the Defense Department," Biden told reporters on Capitol Hill.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, traveling with President Bush in Australia, voiced support for Rumsfeld. "That's exactly what a strong and capable secretary of defense like Secretary Rumsfeld should be doing," said McClellan.
"The president has always said it will require thinking differently. It's a different type of war," McClellan said.
Bush talked about the war on terrorism with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Canberra, where he planned to discuss it with Prime Minister John Howard.
"I've always felt that there's a tendency of people to kind of seek a comfort zone and hope that the war on terror is over," Bush said. "And I view it as a responsibility of the United States to remind people of our mutual obligations to deal with the terrorists."
Rumsfeld's spokesman, Larry Di Rita, told reporters the memo was meant to raise "big questions that deserve big thinking" and preserve a sense of urgency about where the war is heading.
Rumsfeld wrote "we are just getting started" in battling Ansar al-Islam (search), an Iraq-based terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda.
And he asked: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"
Madrassas are Islamic religious schools. Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials say some schools run by radical groups indoctrinate students to join in an anti-American holy war.
Rumsfeld's memo raises the possibility of creating "a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course" and questions how to block the funding of the extremist schools.
Sounding a theme Rumsfeld repeatedly has voiced in the past two years, the memo says the Defense Department is too big and slow to effectively fight small groups of terrorists.
"An alternative might be to try to fashion a new institution, either within DoD or elsewhere," Rumsfeld wrote.