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Taliban find safe havens in Pak: Gates

Taliban and Al-Qaeda are both using some of the wild areas on the Pakistani side of the border as havens
IANS | By Arun Kumar, Washington
UPDATED ON MAR 14, 2007 04:51 PM IST

United States Secretary of Defence Robert M Gates has joined Pentagon's top general in pointing to continued Taliban and Al-Qaeda activity on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan as a key problem.

"Taliban and Al-Qaeda are both using some of the wild areas on the Pakistani side of the border as havens," he said in a television interview on Tuesday with the Pentagon Channel.

"There clearly is a problem along the Pakistani border. Now, we're working with the Pakistanis to try and deal with that problem," Gates said.

Earlier, in a separate interview published Tuesday, Pentagon's top general said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's policy of courting tribal leaders on the border with Afghanistan has not prevented cross-border incursions by Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.

"It is proper for us to point out to President Musharraf that people are continuing to come across the border," chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Peter Pace, told the Chicago Tribune.

Noting that there has been an increase in cross-border attacks, he said that a controversial treaty that Musharraf signed with tribal chiefs in north Waziristan province has not produced the results that the Pakistani leader hoped it would in reducing cross-border attacks by Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents.

However, Gates did not think that other nations are providing much support to Al-Qaeda. "I think that individuals do and they have a variety of fronts and other ways that they get money.

Similarly, I think the Taliban are pretty much on their own, nobody much liked their governance in Afghanistan."

Asked about support from US allies for the war effort in Afghanistan, he said, "Actually, several countries have stepped up their commitments in Afghanistan in the last two or three weeks, the Australians, the British and others have announced that they're sending more troops into Afghanistan."

"... It really is consistent, I think, with our strategy that when it comes to dealing with terrorists, it's better to fight on their ten yard line than to fight on our ten yard line, and NATO has embraced that mission and so all of the NATO countries in one way or another engaged in Afghanistan, as well as a number of countries from Europe and elsewhere that aren't members of NATO," Gates said.

"I think this is very important in terms of the legitimacy of the Afghan government, but also in terms of the effectiveness of the overall activities in Afghanistan, both the fighting and the economic development," he said.

Turning to the situation in Iraq, Gates cited the American commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus to say, "it's really early to make any judgments" as the Baghdad security plan is only been underway for a couple of weeks or so, but "the early signs are encouraging."

"The Iraqis have, to a considerable extent, fulfilled the obligations that they have made so far in terms of appointing their own commander for the Baghdad area, appointing two sub-commanders, bringing the troops in that they promised while the original battalions that showed up were light, 50 to 60 percent," Gates said.

Asked how would he measure success in Iraq, the top Pentagon official said US will first see the security area whether the Iraqis are keeping the commitments that they've made to Washington in terms of appointments, the structure, providing the promised troops and the government staying out of political interference with the military actions.

However, "success of the plan, militarily, the whole part of clear hold and build remains to be seen. The build parts remains to be seen, and those will take longer for us to evaluate how they're doing," Gates said.

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