WASHINGTON – The United States is "not inclined to negotiate surrenders" in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday, adding that U.S. troops are telling anti-Taliban rebels that they should not allow Taliban leaders to escape the country.
Asked about reports that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was negotiating a handover of power in Kandahar to a tribal leader affiliated with the Taliban, Rumsfeld replied that the United States was in no mood for deals.
"If the thrust of that question is, 'Would we knowingly allow him to get out of Kandahar?' the answer is, 'No, we would not,'" Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary also said the U.S. is "not in a position" to accept prisoners of any stripe, since there are "relatively small numbers" of American forces on the ground. He said that would be left to opposition forces.
Rumsfeld said U.S. special forces in Afghanistan had not yet pursued any Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders into neighboring Pakistan. "If one of those folk that we particularly wanted was known" to be crossing a border "we might have an early intensive consultation with the neighbors," he added.
Likewise, in the other major pocket of Taliban and Al Qaeda resistance, the northern city of Kunduz, the United States is trying to avoid any dealmaking that would allow enemy forces to escape, he said.
"The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect," he said. "So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner."
Rumsfeld added that he hoped a $25 million reward would help convince Afghans to flush Usama bin Laden out of hiding so that American troops would not have to go into caves to find him.
"Our hope is that the dual incentive of helping to free that country from a very repressive regime ... coupled with substantial monetary rewards [would convince] a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks," Rumsfeld said.
Nevertheless, he said, several hundred special forces troops now are operating on the ground in Afghanistan, reiterating an earlier Pentagon statement by spokeswoman Victoria Clarke that the U.S. presence has been beefed up in the hunt for bin Laden.
Meanwhile, American planes pounded Taliban front lines just outside Kunduz, where several thousand Taliban and Al Qaeda solidiers have been under siege by Northern Alliance forces for several days.
With U.S. bombs still falling, the Taliban regime cracking and Afghan opposition forces rising, Bush administration officials say chances of finding bin Laden are improving.
The Taliban's envoy to Pakistan said Saturday that bin Laden had left Afghanistan, but that has not been substantiated. Later, the diplomat said he meant only that bin Laden was outside areas under Taliban control.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.