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Rumsfeld Reacts to News of Zarqawi's Death

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heard about the air strike against the al-Qaida leader at a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels. It was good news from Iraq. The NATO ministers were also talking about Afghanistan.

NPR's Pentagon, John Hendren, is traveling with the secretary of defense. He has our story.

JOHN HENDREN, reporting:

Secretary Rumsfeld said General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, phoned him in Brussels last night to inform him of the air strike. But the secretary kept the news to himself and did not inform reporters traveling with him until he first broke it to NATO ministers in a closed session this morning.

When he spoke to reporters afterward, Rumsfeld was in good spirits and visibly pleased.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Secretary of Defense, United States): I think arguably over the last several years, no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women, and children on his hands than Zarqawi. He personified the dark, sadistic, and medieval vision of the future; of beheadings, suicide bombings, and indiscriminate killings.

The fact that he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country, and, I would say, worldwide. Because he had interests well outside of Iraq. He was an integral part of the global war on terror.

HENDREN: That sentiment was echoed by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Mr. JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General, NATO): He was high in command, with lots of blood on his hands, so I think I'm not exaggerating when I'm saying that he will not be missed.

HENDREN: Rumsfeld said Zarqawi's death would hurt the network, but he acknowledged that the insurgency is likely to go on without him.

Mr. RUMSFELD: There will always be someone who will pop up, but this fellow was the mastermind behind that network. He was involved in the financing of it. He was involved in activities outside of Iraq. And he had a number of people with him who were also killed, which is a good thing. And I suspect that it will slow them down.

There are going to be people who are determined to kill innocent men, women, and children, and others will come along.

HENDREN: NATO ministers also moved on another front in counter terrorism, agreeing to double the number of NATO troops in increasingly violent southern Afghanistan. NATO troops have already taken control in northern and western Afghanistan. The alliance hopes to begin replacing some of the American troops in eastern Afghanistan, as early as next year.

NATO Secretary General Scheffer said the alliance will contribute as many troops as needed.

Mr. SCHEFFER: We cannot afford and we will not accept to let the Taliban get it their way because we all know the price of that. That price has been paid in Afghanistan by many million of Afghanis and that price should not be paid again. And that is the reason that NATO will stay the course and that is the reason we will succeed in supporting the government and the Afghan people.

HENDREN: Rumsfeld's stop in Brussels ramped up an eight-day tour that took him to Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

John Hendren, NPR News. Brussels.

CHADWICK: NPR News will continue to track reaction to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi throughout the day. As always, you can find the latest plus analysis and background information at our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Hendren
John Hendren began covering the Pentagon for NPR in November 2005. His reports can be heard throughout NPR News programming and newscasts.
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