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Generals pledge better security on Pak-Afghan border

Written by: Staff
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ISLAMABAD, Apr 19 (Reuters) Afghan, Pakistani, and US generals discussed security as Pakistan put more troops into tribal regions on the frontier to help a fresh offensive by U.S. and Afghan forces against militants in eastern Afghanistan.

A joint statement issued yesterday at the end of a regular tripartite commission meeting said the three sides had agreed to enhance ''communication and coordination'' to fight al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas in the border area, something President George W Bush had called for during a visit to Islamabad in early March.

Pakistan's vice army chief, General Ahsan Saleem Hyat, hosted the US commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General Karl Eikenberry, along with Afghan army chief General Bismullah Khan for the talks in Rawalpindi.

Relations over border issues have not always run smoothly between the three allies in the war on terrorism, and commitments to greater cooperation have been made often in the past.

Afghan officials have often complained that insurgents use Pakistani soil as a launching pad for attacks inside Afghanistan, since US-backed forces ousted the Taliban militia from Afghanistan in late 2001.

The worst row so far blew up around the time of Bush's visit, as President Pervez Musharraf bridled at Afghan President Hamid Karzai saying that Taliban leaders were in Pakistan and the Pakistani government had been given intelligence about their whereabouts.

Both Islamabad and Kabul have accused each other of not doing enough to curb the cross-border movement of militants along their rugged 2,450 km border.

But the statement said there had been ''increasingly positive progress of communications and information sharing'' between all three sides.

Having already deployed more than 70,000 troops on the border, Pakistan yesterday said soldiers had been stationed on the border opposite the eastern Afghan province of Kunar in order to prevent militants fleeing a US-led offensive, codenamed Operation Mountain Lion.

The deployment is part of a so-called hammer and anvil strategy to give al Qaeda and Taliban fighters nowhere to run as US-led forces close in on them.

Most speculation points to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hiding somewhere in Pakistan, while his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, is believed to criss-cross the Pashtun tribal lands straddling the border.

Pakistani forces have been battling militants in the Waziristan tribal region for over two years, but fighting has intensified in North Waziristan and close to 300 militant tribesmen have been killed in fighting since early March.

Last week, the Pakistani army killed an Egyptian al Qaeda member, wanted for involvement in the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, along with six other militants in the same area.

REUTERS KD KN2025

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