Pakistan, Afghanistan discuss joint border force
Pakistan and Afghanistan are discussing a possible joint force to combat militants on both sides of their border near Pakistan's tribal region, which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda and other groups, a senior Afghan official said on Monday.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters that such a force would include U.S. troops and address soaring insurgent violence that he said has stretched the capabilities of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan, reported Reuters.
"We should have a combined joint task force of coalition, Afghans and Pakistanis to be able to operate on the both sides of the border," Wardak said at the Pentagon during a visit to Washington to discuss a Kabul plan to nearly double the size of the Afghan army.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had not heard the details of Wardak's proposal but said any effort to improve security in the border area was welcome.
"I think anything that impacts better security on that border is a good thing," he told reporters in Los Angeles.
"I am encouraged that a leader in Afghanistan has spoken out with this kind of idea," he said. "As in all these things, the devil will be in the details."
Mullen told Congress this month that he had ordered a new U.S. military strategy for the region that would for the first time encompass Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Wardak said the Afghan government had discussed the task force with Pakistani officials within the past several weeks. "They say they're looking at it," he said.
Speaking two days after a truck-bomb attack on Islamabad's Marriott hotel, Wardak said that given recent events in Pakistan, "everyone should realize we have a common threat, a common enemy and a common objective to achieve."
He noted that insurgent violence in Afghanistan rose three-fold from 2005 to 2007 and said, "2008 is going to be the highest among all."
The core of the insurgency consists of 10,000 to 15,000 fighters in Afghanistan, he said, not including those who operated outside the country in areas such as Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, on the Afghan border.
"Now I think they're operating geographically in more areas and more provinces than before, and I think they have stretched the capability of the combined forces of ISAF, the coalition and Afghans," the defense minister said.
ISAF, NATO's International Security Assistance Force, totals about 47,000 troops including 13,000 Americans. An additional 20,000 U.S. troops operate in Afghanistan under a separate U.S. command.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have asked for three more combat brigades totaling around 10,000 troops. Washington, strapped by commitments in Iraq, plans to send one Army combat brigade and a smaller Marine force by February.
U.S. and Afghan officials blame the rising tide of attacks in Afghanistan partly on safe havens in Pakistan where they say militants are recruited and trained and cross-border actions are planned.
But there has been frustration in Washington over Pakistan's slowness to act against militants on its soil.
U.S. commandos crossed the border into Pakistan on September 3 to attack a suspected al Qaeda target that officials said was contributing to violence in Afghanistan. The operation raised an outcry from Pakistani officials who said women and children were among the 20 people killed.
"A terrorist does not recognize any boundaries," Wardak said when asked about the raid. "We have to deal with the sanctuaries and the real hide-outs of the terrorists, wherever they are."