WASHINGTON– NATO’s top military commander in Afghanistan said today he is “cautiously optimistic” regarding recent Pakistani military efforts to rein in insurgent activity in areas near the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani leadership now appears to be acting against terrorist sanctuaries located in the country’s remote federally administered tribal area, Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, told Pentagon reporters.

Pakistani leaders may recognize that those militant bases pose “an existential threat” to Pakistan‘s future, McKiernan said. “I am encouraged by the military actions that the Pakistani army and frontier corps have undertaken in places like Bajaur,” he added.

Bajaur, the northernmost of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies located along its border with Afghanistan, is known to contain Taliban and al-Qaida hideouts. Al-Qaida and Taliban militants conduct raids into Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border situation, McKiernan said, supports his contention that the conflict in Afghanistan must be viewed as a regional issue.

“I’ve consistently said that it’s very difficult for me to imagine the right outcome in Afghanistan without the right outcome in the militant sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border,” McKiernan said. “So, I think it’s a regional problem set that will require regional solutions.”

Having stability in that part of the world is vital to U.S. national security interests, the general said.

McKiernan has recommended that thousands of additional U.S. troops be deployed to Afghanistan in the months ahead to help tamp down mounting insurgent-generated violence, some of which is occurring along the border with Pakistan. Meanwhile, he said, there is potential “for increased military synchronization” between Afghan, U.S. and Pakistani troops in the future.

McKiernan praised Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak’s proposal to establish a joint Afghan-Pakistani border patrol consisting of Pakistani military or frontier corpsmen, Afghan border police and ISAF troops, calling it “a very powerful idea.”

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