“We should have a combined joint task force for coalition, Afghan and Pakistan to be able to operate on both sides of the border, regardless of which side,” Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters at the Pentagon.
Wardak said the concept of the joint task force was discussed a month and half ago at a tripartite meeting with prospective partner nations, including Pakistan. “They say they are looking at it,” Wardak said of the government in Islamabad.
The minister said 2008 likely will yield the highest levels of violence in Afghanistan in recent years, and estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 full-time insurgents are operating there.
He declined to estimate the number of foreign combatants entering Afghanistan from Pakistan and elsewhere, but said NATO and Afghan forces have faced many more foreign fighters than local ones. “In some cases, they have to use interpreters to talk to the [local people],” he said of the foreign militants.
Pentagon officials have cited the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as a refuge for militants responsible for violence in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June praised Islamabad for pledging to renew pressure along its northwestern border following a 40-percent increase in NATO’s Regional Command East since the start of 2008.
“The challenges that we’re facing in Afghanistan … are in some measure a result of the relaxation of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border,” Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. “The pressure was taken off of these people and these groups, and they’ve therefore been more free to be able to cross the border and create problems for us.”
Wardak fielded reporters’ questions today after touring the Pentagon Memorial, a two-acre park dedicated to the 184 victims who died when hijackers slammed an airline into the U.S. military’s top headquarters. He expressed regret that Afghanistan was where those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks hatched the plot that would claim the lives of nearly 3,000 victims, and he reiterated his nation’s commitment to combating terrorism.
“I think from the beginning, the Afghan government was of the opinion that we have to [target] the sanctuaries and hideouts of the terrorists, wherever they are,” he said.