SINGAPORE -- The United States and its allies are winning some battles in the war on terrorism but may be losing the broader struggle against Islamic extremism that is terrorism's source, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
The troubling unknown, he said, is whether the extremists, whom he called "zealots and despots" bent on destroying the global system of nation-states, are turning out newly trained terrorists faster than the United States can capture or kill them.
"We do not have a coherent approach to this," he said at an international security conference.
His remarks indicated a level of concern about the long-term direction of the US-led global fight against terrorism that Rumsfeld rarely addresses in public.
The Pentagon chief usually lauds the efforts of US troops, denounces terrorist networks, and urges other countries to join the effort to stop terrorist acts.
Yesterday, he went further, saying that although terrorists must be confronted, the bigger problem is the extremist Islamic ideology that produces them.
"What you have is a civil war in that religion where a small minority are trying to hijack it," he said.
Later yesterday in Bangladesh, Rumsfeld discussed that nation's possible interest in sending peacekeepers to Iraq after an interim government in Baghdad takes political control on June 30.
After meeting with Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan in Dhaka, the capital, Rumsfeld told reporters the two had spoken about Iraq and Afghanistan, but not the specifics of peacekeeping in those countries. Rumsfeld also had talks with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and senior generals.
US defense secretaries rarely visit Bangladesh, but Rumsfeld wanted to draw attention to the mostly Muslim nation as a model of a moderate Islamic country that denounces terrorism. While thousands of anti-American protesters took to the streets of Dhaka on Friday, there was no sign of hostility when Rumsfeld's entourage drove through the capital yesterday.
In his remarks in Singapore, he said: "We're focusing on trying to defend against terrorist attacks, but terrorism is simply a technique being used by extremists. It is not the problem in and of itself; it's a weapon that's being used."