US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, starting a tour of the Gulf region to thank allies for help in the Iraq war and to discuss possible changes in the US military presence.
Rumsfeld landed six hours late after his aircraft suffered a mechanical problem on a refuelling stop in Ireland. A broken brake on Rumsfeld's US Airforce jet caused him to cancel his planned visit to Afghanistan but US officials said he hoped to go to Kabul later in the week.
Defence Donald Rumsfeld to inform
Gulf leaders of future US military plans
for the region
Khaliq Ahmad, a spokesman in the office of President Hamid Karzai, said Rumsfeld was now expected later in the week. "We don't know the exact date yet," he said.
He was due to thank leaders in the Gulf for support in the Iraq war after his visit to Kabul in any case, in addition to discussing future military deployment in the area.
A defence official would not specify the countries to be visited but in addition to the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are all likely candidates, as well as a visit to Iraq - five weeks after the US-led invasion.
"One ought not to think of this as a victory tour," he told reporters traveling with him. "The task that we have before us in Iraq is one that is going to take a lot of focus, a lot of attention, a lot of effort over a period of time," he said.
Rumsfeld's meetings with leaders and US commanders in the region will deal with "the evolution that is taking place from major combat operations to stability operations," he said.
He is scheduled to meet with Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Defense Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Armed Forces chief Lieutenant General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan.
Another objective is "to discuss with our allies in the countries around Iraq the arrangements we have with them, and our partnership and cooperation as we look forward to end at some point major combat operations in Iraq," Rumsfeld said.
"We feel a commitment to the people in those countries. And we intend to stay there with the international community and assist them in transitioning from where they were to where they are going -- from an authoritarian system in each case... to something on a path that is more democratic," he said.
Rumsfeld has denied during the past week that Washington is already planning to establish long-term military bases in postwar Iraq, saying such an arrangement is unlikely.
He is expected to fly to Qatar late in the day to meet US Army General Tommy Franks, who commanded the war effort from the Headquarters at Doha, before eventually reaching Kabul, where he intends to declare a formal end to combat operations in most of shattered Afghanistan. He said both governments are also seeking to speed up internal reconstruction.
"Some countries and some organisations look to the formality as opposed to the reality of whether or not an area is permissive and secure," he said, stressing that most of Afghanistan was now secure - despite continuing deadly skirmishes between Taliban guerrillas, local militias and US troops in Afghanistan
He said he would be discussing the shift to "stability" operations in Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai, Army General Tommy Franks and Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, the commander of the 11,000-strong US-led force in Afghanistan.
A key US effort was supposed to help train and equip an Afghan national army. McNeill acknowledged last week it has been a "tough road" with barely half of the 3000 troops already ‘trained’ having deserted due to low pay. McNeill said he hoped to have a central core of some 9,000 to 12,000 soldiers trained by next summer.