U.S., Afghan Forces Focus on Pak­istani Bor­der

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Car­den
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

The U.S. military’s senior offi­cer and the com­man­der of inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan met with reporters here today to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion and threats coali­tion and Afghan forces are fac­ing.

Insur­gent activ­i­ties and coali­tion casu­al­ties have increased through­out the past months, while June was the dead­liest month for coali­tion troops in near­ly sev­en years of con­flict here. Twen­ty-eight ser­vice­mem­bers were killed.

This is due part­ly to “coali­tion and Afghan troops tak­ing the fight to the insur­gency” and the ris­ing num­ber of insur­gents cross­ing the bor­der from Pak­istan into Afghanistan, said Army Gen. David D. McK­ier­nan, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force here.

The lack of abil­i­ty for the new Pak­istani gov­ern­ment to suc­cess­ful­ly mon­i­tor their bor­ders have allowed for mil­i­tant and insur­gent groups to find safe havens in the trib­al areas there, McK­ier­nan explained.

“I have con­sis­tent­ly said that we are see­ing an increas­ing lev­el of vio­lence in Afghanistan, espe­cial­ly in the east and the south,” he said. “I attribute part of that to the fact that there are sanc­tu­ary areas to mil­i­tant groups that are across the [Pak­istan] board­er in Fata and the North-West Fron­tier Province.”

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, “The new Pak­istan gov­ern­ment has a very dif­fi­cult chal­lenge and con­tin­ues to work its way through, but has to enforce mak­ing sure for­eign fight­ers don’t exist out there and make sure the insur­gents don’t have the free­dom of move­ment across the bor­der.”

U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials rec­og­nize the need for more troops in Afghanistan, but remain reluc­tant to deploy them because of com­mit­ments cur­rent­ly in Iraq. Offi­cials also real­ize the need to increase “dwell time” after deploy­ments for ser­vice­mem­bers, said Mullen, who was in Iraq the pre­vi­ous three days vis­it­ing troops and meet­ing with senior lead­ers there.

“I just came from Iraq, and the con­di­tions con­tin­ue to improve there,” he said. “I am still very hope­ful that those con­di­tions will con­tin­ue so we’ll have forces avail­able to do oth­er things. The next pri­or­i­ty would be to move forces into Afghanistan.”

In ear­ly June, Pres­i­dent Bush vowed to send addi­tion­al forces to Afghanistan in 2009. How­ev­er, there are no specifics about when that may take place, Mullen said.

“Exact­ly when the increase may occur will be based on deci­sions made about Iraq in the future,” he added. “From the nation­al per­spec­tive, we’re giv­en direc­tion from the pres­i­dent, and it’s the deci­sion of the lead­er­ship in [the U.S.] that we pri­or­i­tize accord­ing­ly.”

Mullen not­ed that the recent addi­tion of two U.S. Marine bat­tal­ions in Afghanistan — one train­ing Afghan sol­diers and police and the oth­er par­tic­i­pat­ing in heavy fight­ing in the south­ern regions — have made sig­nif­i­cant progress in the fight against ter­ror­ism.

How­ev­er, he said he remains con­cerned about the num­ber of addi­tion­al forces from the North­ern Atlantic Treaty Orga­ni­za­tion that mem­ber coun­tries have com­mit­ted to Afghanistan through­out the past year, he said.

“We need that extra capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “[NATO] needs to do all they can do, as well.”

Mullen reit­er­at­ed his con­cerns about for­eign fight­ers cross­ing the Pak­istani bor­der and their safe havens in the country’s trib­al areas. Insur­gents flow much more freely into Afghanistan than they did a year ago, he said.

He said the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary have to put more pres­sure on their bor­der in order for Afghanistan’s gov­ern­ment to devel­op and suc­ceed.

“We all rec­og­nize that the chal­lenges here con­tin­ue to be sig­nif­i­cant,” the admi­ral said. “The vio­lence is up, but at the same time, coali­tion and Afghan forces are aggres­sive­ly engag­ing the ene­my, and we’ve had sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess­es.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)