Washington: Cross-border radio communications with Pakistan’s military collapsed after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May and are still not consistent or up to what the US would like to see, a top US general said on Thursday.
US Army Lt Gen Curtis Scaparrotti, who directs day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan, said officials are trying to re-establish military communications along the border, particularly between Afghan and Pakistani units that are facing each other.
Offering a more detailed accounting of some of the cross-border problems with Islamabad that plagued US and Afghan operations over the spring and summer, Scaparrotti said that Pakistan’s Frontier Corps forces at times looked the other way when nearby insurgents fired into Afghanistan.
Pakistani leaders were incensed when US special operations forces crossed the border for the bin Laden raid, seeing it as a violation of their country’s sovereignty. Pakistan has also rebuffed increasing pressure from the US to go after insurgents — particularly the Haqqani network — who operate in safe havens along the border and launch attacks into Afghanistan.
Describing the border friction, Scaparrotti said that there appeared to be either collaboration between the Frontier Corp troops and the insurgents, or at the very least they deliberately did nothing when insurgents fired rockets or mortars from locations in sight of their combat posts.
But he said there are now signs that things may be starting to improve.
“Since we began our discussions here lately, the Pakistanis have in fact returned fire on several of those points of origin that we’ve taken fire from now,” Scaparrotti said. “That’s a positive indicator here in the last month.”
Scaparrotti said when he was in Afghanistan a year ago he would routinely run coordinated operations, with the Afghans on one side of the border and the Pakistanis on the other.
“When I came in July, the communication was not, was not open, and there was a good deal of difficulty,” he told Pentagon reporters on Thursday. “After the bin Laden raid, those routine communications just were not available in most cases. We had a difficult time arranging border flag meetings. We had a difficult time arranging communications back and forth.”
Citing a recent meeting with Pakistani officials, he said they are writing up new procedures that would lay out the daily communications expected of each side.
“Right now we’re having conversations, and I hope to see that that’ll move into action here in the near term,” he said.
Asked about the insurgents safe havens in Pakistan, Scaparrotti said they are one of the biggest threats to the US campaign in Afghanistan. But, he said that even if the safe havens remain, he believes the US can meet its objectives to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2014 as long as the Afghans can build a strong, layered defence along the Pakistan border.
He said that would include bolstering the border posts with mobile units that can cover the gaps, and using the conventional police and Army forces to supplement them.
Asked about efforts to withdraw 10,000 US troops by the end of the year and another 23,000 next September, Scaparrotti said about a third of those coming out this year will be combat troops, while the remainder will come from support forces at bases and headquarters units.