updated 9/29/2006 9:34:49 AM ET 2006-09-29T13:34:49

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld steered clear of any judgment on a classified document that concludes the terrorist threat to the U.S. has increased, saying efforts to judge whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fueled terrorism would be futile.

In his first extensive remarks about the U.S. intelligence report, Rumsfeld said it is impossible to know with any precision whether the wars have created more terrorists than they’ve killed. But, he added, “the implication that if you stop killing or capturing people who are trying to kill you, then therefore the world would be a better place, is obviously nonsensical.”

Speaking to reporters at a NATO defense ministers conference, Rumsfeld tread carefully on what has been a politically explosive issue in recent days, and he would comment only broadly on the terrorist question.

'Cause celebre' for jihadists
In the much-discussed National Intelligence Estimate, the government’s top analysts concluded that Iraq has become a “cause celebre” for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts said, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad surely will grow.

“Are more terrorists being created in the world? We don’t know,” said Rumsfeld, adding that there aren’t good ways to measure how many terrorists are being trained at camps around the world.

Disclosure of the classified report, and President Bush’s subsequent move to make portions of it public, has had broad political ramifications.

Both side use report as evidence
For Republicans, the report provides more evidence that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and can’t be abandoned without giving jihadists a crucial victory. And for Democrats, it furthers their argument that the 2003 Iraq invasion has inflamed anti-U.S. sentiments in the Muslim world and left the U.S. less safe.

Rumsfeld said that while it’s hard to know how many terrorist are being created, officials have a better idea how many have been killed or captured.

On Thursday the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq purportedly said in an audio message posted online that more than 4,000 foreign militants have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the first apparent acknowledgment from the insurgents about their losses.

“Anyone who thinks there is a single answer or a single reason, or a silver bullet that’s going to solve the problem, can’t be right. It’s too complex,” Rumsfeld said.

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