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U.S. Commander: Pakistan Must Do More To Fight Taliban

U.S. Commander Gen. David McKiernan

U.S. Commander Gen. David McKiernan

KABUL, April 19 -- Pakistan must do more to "erase" Taliban bases inside its territory which are destabilizing the entire region, the U.S. commander of Western troops in neighboring Afghanistan says.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has pledged 21,000 more troops to join 39,000 American soldiers fighting Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan. It has also stepped up attacks by drones on suspected militant bases across the border in Pakistan.

U.S. Army General David McKiernan, who commands more than 70,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, said on April 19 that he was confident the new troops would bring improvements in security to southern Afghanistan this year after years of rising violence.

But he described insecurity as a regional problem that could only be resolved by a stronger effort from Pakistan's embattled government to tackle safe havens for militants.

"There must be an improved effort on the other side of the border against these safe havens that many of these insurgent groups operate from in Pakistan," he told a news conference.

"There are sanctuary areas that have existed for many years across the border. They feed terrorism and insecurity on both sides of the border," McKiernan said.

"I think it is safe to say there is an expectation that the government of Pakistan must erase these safe havens so that they are not a threat to their own country and the region. They will have the full support of the international community to do that."


Pakistani authorities bristle at any suggestion that they have been lax in battling Taliban guerrillas on their side of the border. They say thousands of Pakistani troops have died fighting militants, and criticism of their effort only serves to increase anti-Americanism and boost support for the militants.

But international concern over Pakistan's ability to fight the militants has grown in recent months as attacks by militants have increased both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the latest strike in Pakistan, a suicide car bomber killed 25 soldiers and police and two passers-by on April 18.

Afghanistan expressed worry last week about the impact on its own security of a decision by Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari to accept Taliban demands and impose Islamic law on the Swat valley, where militants have gained ground.

On the Afghan side of the border, Taliban attacks have increased to the highest levels seen since the militants were driven from Kabul in 2001.

"Challenges, generally, have increased in past years," Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told the news conference in Kabul alongside the U.S. commander.

"The level of enemy attacks have gone up, there are foreign combatants (in their ranks), the way they operate has become complex, they have access to better training and equipment."

McKiernan said he would send most of the new U.S. troops to southern provinces near Pakistan that have seen the greatest rise in instability, and he expected the influx to help.

But he said he had no power to intervene on the Pakistani side of the border. "Insecurity and instability is a regional problem and will require regional approaches," he said.