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Rice Says Pakistan Needs To Do More To Close Afghan Border

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Perth

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Perth

PERTH, Australia -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Pakistan needs to do more to help curb the flow of militants across its border into Afghanistan as the Taliban has increased terrorist activity.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith backed Rice's call, saying the porous northwest frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan was the "current international hotbed of terrorism" and could not be regarded as a bilateral border issue.

A resurgence in Taliban fighting in Afghanistan has seen militants seize remote outposts and force thinly spread security forces to respond in a game of cat-and-mouse. Many militants freely cross the Pakistani-Afghan border despite Pakistani military operations aimed at stemming the flow.

"What we need to do is to look hard at how the Taliban is regrouping, why the Taliban is fighting in the way that they are now," Rice told a news conference in Perth in western Australia.

"They generally are taken on and defeated pretty handily when they come in actual military formation. But there is an uptick in the terrorism, not just against forces but the Afghan people," she said. "In that regard everybody needs to do more, but Pakistan does need to do more.

"We understand that the northwest frontier area is difficult, but militants cannot be allowed to organize there and plan there and engage across the border."

U.S. officials have long been frustrated at what they view as Pakistan's failure to do enough to combat militants along its border with Afghanistan, where the United States has some 35,000 troops, many of whom are fighting the Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan said on July 23 it would not allow Islamist militants to plot attacks on its soil, nor let foreign troops take military action on its territory.

The declaration by the 3 1/2-month old coalition came amid growing fears that the United States might take unilateral action against Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in tribal areas on the Afghan border.

Newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and U.S. President George W. Bush will meet in Washington next week and Bush has said he will raise the border issue.

Terrorism Hotbed

Smith agreed that Pakistan needed to do more to close its porous border but added that Islamabad also needed to be engaged in a dialogue with the international community and given assistance.

"There is no doubt that the current international hotbed of terrorism is in that area, is in the Pakistan-Afghan border area," Smith told the news conference. "We are very concerned about the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. We don't believe that that can be regarded simply as a bilateral matter between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is an issue which has regional and international community consequences."

Australia has some 1,000 troops in Afghanistan and has lost six soldiers in Afghanistan since 2002, two of them this year. Around 40 other soldiers have been wounded.

Rice laid a wreath at a Perth war memorial and chatted with the families of Australian special forces killed in Afghanistan.

Violence has escalated in Afghanistan since 2006 when the Taliban, ousted from power in 2001, regrouped to drive out the troops and topple the Western-backed central government.

Afghan soldiers killed "dozens" of militants, including foreigners, in a clash on a highway in southern Zabul Province on July 24, the Defense Ministry said. Thirty-four bodies of terrorists were collected from the battlefield, it said.

The Interior Ministry put the number of Taliban deaths as high as 70. If confirmed, the losses would be the bloodiest for the militants in a single day in recent weeks in Afghanistan.

Separately, seven Afghan police were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks in other parts of Afghanistan.