Afghan border too porous, U.S. defence chief complains

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Afghanistan, says the United States must talk to Pakistan about curbing an influx of Taliban fighters into the country.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Afghanistan on Tuesday, said the country's border with Pakistan is far too porous, allowing Taliban fighters and their allies to cross into Afghanistan to attack U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Kabul on Tuesday. ((Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press))
Standing alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Gates lamented "that there are more attacks coming across the border, that there are al-Qaeda networks operating on the Pakistani side of the border, and this is something we clearly will have to pursue with the Pakistani government."

He did not rule out increasing U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where more than 2,000 Canadian troops are part of the NATO contingent fighting the Taliban and trying to help rebuild the country.

If U.S. commanders asked for more troops, "then I would be
strongly inclined to recommend that to the president," Gates told reporters.

U.S. military officials said the cross-border incursions explain a dramatic increase in attacks on U.S. and allied forces, the Associated Press reported from Kabul.

Canadian and Afghan troops took part in a 45-minute firefight with Taliban forces on Jan. 5 in Lacookhal, Afghanistan. ((Bill Graveland/Canadian Press))
The officials said Taliban fighters seeking to regain power in Afghanistan are taking advantage of a recent peace deal with the Pakistan government to infiltrate the border.

There are nearly 24,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which Lt.-Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. commander in the country, said was the highest number since the war began in 2001.

Eikenberry said in an interview that Taliban attacks surged by 200 per cent in December. A U.S. military intelligence officer said that since the peace deal went into effect Sept. 5, the number of attacks in the border area has grown by 300 per cent.

"It's going to be a violent spring," Eikenberry predicted.

Other officials said it has become commonplace for the Pakistani military at border outposts to turn a blind eye to infiltration of Taliban fighters.

Col. Thomas Collins, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the Pakistan peace deal has backfired.

"The enemy is taking advantage of that agreement to launch attacks into Afghanistan," Collins said.

With files from the Associated Press