updated 3/27/2006 1:53:43 PM ET 2006-03-27T18:53:43

The al-Qaida terrorist network and affiliated Islamic extremists represent one of the most brutal enemies the United States has ever seen, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

Speaking to an audience of Army War College students and faculty, Rumsfeld cited several examples of vicious terrorist assaults, including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and warned that unless the terrorists are stopped they will continue to seek the means to launch even deadlier attacks on the West in the years ahead.

“The enemy we face may be the most brutal in our history,” Rumsfeld said. “They currently lack only the means — not the desire — to kill, murder millions of innocent people with weapons vastly more powerful than boarding passes and box cutters,” he added, referring to the terrorists who hijacked the airliners on Sept. 11.

It was Rumsfeld’s first visit to the war college in his more than five years as secretary of defense.

Earlier in the day he stopped at Shanksville, Pa., to see for the first time the place where hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field on Sept. 11, killing all 40 passengers and crew shortly after hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 Commission report said the hijackers crashed the plane as passengers tried to take control of the cockpit.

In his speech, Rumsfeld described the Shanksville site as a place where “a group of ordinary airline passengers gave their lives in extraordinary defiance of foreign hijackers and in defense of our country’s capital.”

Rumsfeld said progress is being made in the global war on terror, particularly in making it more difficult for the terrorist groups to recruit, train, raise money, establish sanctuaries and acquire weapons. But he stressed that more needs to be done.

“The strategy must do a great deal more to reduce the lure of the extremist ideology by standing with those moderate Muslims advocating peaceful change, freedom and tolerance,” he said.

Rumsfeld noted that among the more than 300 war college students in his audience were an Afghan military officer and one from Iraq.

“We welcome you and are proud to stand with you in the cause of freedom,” the defense secretary said.

For nearly 40 years beginning in 1879, the Carlisle post served as the grounds for a school to train American Indians — among them 1912 Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe. In the 1920s, the War Department resumed control of the post, and it has served as the location of various types of military schools since. The war college was moved here from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1951.

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