Richard Cohen missed the mark in his Nov. 14 op-ed column, "Return of Bin Laden," in which he claimed that the Bush administration is playing down the importance of Osama bin Laden because it hasn't caught him.

In September 2001, before military action began in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "There's no question but that he [Osama bin Laden] is a prime suspect. The al Qaeda organization, however . . . is much bigger than one person. . . . It is not just the al Qaeda organization. There are other terrorist organizations in the world that have made it their business to wreak great damage on others."

The next month, shortly after military action started, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "The success of the mission, as I've defined it repeatedly, is to stop terrorists from terrorizing the world, and to stop countries from harboring terrorists."

We are committed to pursuing this mission. However, success won't be measured by the death or capture of one person. Mr. Rumsfeld summed it up in March:

"If Osama bin Laden died today, there probably are four, five, six, eight, 10 people who can step in and manage that apparatus in a reasonable, competent way. . . . Would it be nice to catch him? Sure.

"Do we think we will?

"Sure.

"But do I get up every day and think that that's the single most important thing in the world we're doing? Goodness, no. We've got thousands of al Qaeda who have been trained; they're all over the world. We have to go find them."

VICTORIA CLARKE

Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

U.S. Department of Defense

Washington