WASHINGTON -- Despite progress in fighting terrorism, the threat today may be greater than ever before because the weapons available are far more dangerous, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
''The enemy -- while weakened and under great pressure -- is still capable of global reach, still possesses the determination to kill more Americans, and still trying to do so with increasingly powerful weapons," Rumsfeld said at the National Press Club.
The US strategy, he said, includes doing everything possible to prevent the enemy from gaining weapons of mass destruction, improving homeland defense and intelligence gathering, and helping friendly nations become better able to fight the terrorists in their own countries.
''Because they lurk in shadows, without visible armies, and are willing to wait long periods between attacks, there is a tendency to underestimate the threat they pose," Rumsfeld said. He said there are no fewer than 18 organizations, loosely connected with Al Qaeda, conducting terrorist attacks.
Rumsfeld described the stakes in stark terms.
''They will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs," he said.
During a question-and-answer session, a protester stood and shouted at Rumsfeld, accusing him of pressing an unjust war, before being escorted from the room. Once she was gone, Rumsfeld remarked, ''We'll count her as undecided."
Addressing the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld said the time has arrived for the Iraqis to take more responsibility for their own future, including quelling the insurgency and creating a unified government.
''They're going to have to grab ahold of their country and make it work," he said.
His remarks come as the Pentagon is preparing to release a broad four-year defense review that does not eliminate any major weapons programs but calls for more spending on special operations forces, cuts in Air Force personnel, and a restructuring of the Army and reserve forces.
Rumsfeld's speech also touched on the idea that Americans must be braced for a long war on terror, a theme that both Rumsfeld and President Bush have pressed in recent days. And Rumsfeld again warned that the only way terrorists win is if the United States loses its will to continue the fight in Iraq.
The administration has faced a growing public uneasiness with the Iraq war, which is costing more than $4 billion a month and has left more than 2,240 service members dead. Military officials have said that US forces will pull out of Iraq as the Iraqi forces become more able to take over their country's security.
The Pentagon hopes to drop the total number of troops in Iraq to below 100,000 before the end of 2006, but officials say any reductions will be based on the conditions there.