Kandahar City: Militants operating out of safe havens in Pakistan remain a major threat to Afghanistan but cooperation between NATO-led forces and the Pakistani military is increasing, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.
Devastating floods over the past month have delayed Pakistan`s military from going after militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North Waziristan on Pakistan`s porous northwestern border.
Afghanistan regularly blames Pakistan for allowing Islamist groups to flourish there, President Hamid Karzai describing them as a great threat to Afghan security.
Gates travelled to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban in Afghanistan`s south, to visit US troops. He said he and Karzai agreed on the need for stepped up cooperation between the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Pakistani military to "get rid of" insurgent sanctuaries.
"Cooperation between the two is increasing and everybody understands that the sanctuaries on the other side of the border are a big problem," Gates told reporters.
However, he said the likelihood of direct US military engagement in Pakistan was "very low".
"Unfortunately the flooding in Pakistan is probably going to delay any operations by the Pakistani Army in North Waziristan for some period of time," Gates said.
"But I think the solution here is ISAF, Afghan, Pakistani cooperation to take care of these targets," he said.
Tough fight ahead
Almost 150,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan after US President Barack Obama ordered last year another 30,000 troops in a bid to turn the tide against the Taliban-led insurgency.
Violence is at its worst across Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by US-led Afghan forces in late 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels despite the presence of so many foreign troops.
Obama, who will review the Afghan war strategy in December after mid-term Congressional elections the month before, has set July 2011 as the date to start a gradual troop withdrawal from Afghanistan if conditions on the ground allow.
US military leaders, including General David Petraeus, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, have this week sought to temper expectations of a large-scale pullout, saying it would start with a "thinning out" process and that some would be sent home while others would be reassigned to other districts.
Gates arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday from Baghdad.