“We’re seeing a greater number of insurgents and foreign fighters flowing across the border with Pakistan, unmolested and unhindered,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a news conference. “This movement needs to stop.”
Mullen, who recently returned from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, said all involved with operations on the border must do a better job of policing the region and eliminating the extremists’ safe havens in Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas that are launching pads for attacks on coalition forces. The most recent example was an attack on a coalition and Afghan military outpost in Wanat, in which nine soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team were killed.
“We either find ways to work better together or we fail to secure a better future for the people we’ve all pledged to protect,” Mullen said. “We can and must do better.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said there is no question that the absence of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border is creating an opportunity for more terrorists to cross and launch attacks.
“There are efforts under way to try and improve that on both the Pakistani side and on the Afghan and coalition side,” he said. “There is a real need to do something on the Pakistani side of the border to bring pressure to bear on the Taliban and some of these other violent groups.”
Gates and Mullen said the enemy in Afghanistan has grown bolder, more sophisticated and more diverse. They also said the enemy is taking advantage of the safe havens to train and plan attacks. Mullen said that doing something about the situation was the main message he delivered to all leaders he met in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The new Pakistani government needs to face the reality that it faces a security challenge of its own from these groups, Gates said. The number of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan has doubled in a year, he noted.
“One of the things that is really important is the civilian government gaining a full appreciation of the magnitude and reality of the danger to them posed by these groups and the lack of control or the lack of pressure in the FATA and in the Northwest Province,” the secretary said. “So it seems to me the first thing is for the Pakistanis to have a clear understanding of what’s happening. We can make a contribution there. And then, … as I’ve said before, we are ready, willing and able to help them in any way we can.”
Defense Department officials are looking closely at sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. President Bush said the United States would like to send three brigade combat teams to Afghanistan in fiscal 2009. “I think that we are clearly working very hard to see if there are opportunities to send additional forces sooner rather than later,” Gates said. “No decisions have been made; no recommendations have been made.”
Gates said a need clearly exists to provide additional forces. Commanders in Afghanistan are looking within Afghanistan to see how to reposition the forces they have. The French, for example, are sending a 700-man battalion to Regional Command East that could free up U.S. troops for action elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Gates indicated that military planners are looking at a variety of options on how to respond to the need for more troops.
“I will tell you that I have sought assurances that there will be no return to longer than 12-month deployments,” Gates said. “That’s not something we’re considering, and I’m not aware of any plans to extend anybody beyond the extensions that have already taken place.”