Taliban harder to defeat: Top US officer

The top US military officer said the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan is harder to defeat now than it was a year ago.

Updated: Dec 15, 2009, 18:26 PM IST

Kabul: The top US military officer said the
Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan is harder to defeat now
than it was a year ago, and said he will take up concerns
about strengthening ties to al-Qaida with government leaders
in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
was touring US bases in eastern Afghanistan today. He will
also be in Pakistan this week.
"I remain deeply concerned by the growing level of
collusion between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida and other
extremist groups taking refuge across the border in
Pakistan," Mullen said at the start of his visit Monday.

"Getting at this network, which is now more entrenched,
will be a far more difficult task than it was just one year
ago," Mullen said in the Afghan capital.

"As part of this trip, I intend to discuss with Afghan
and Pakistani leaders the extent to which we all can better
cooperate and coordinate our activities to eliminate the safe
havens from which these groups plan and operate."

He said he was headed to Islamabad and will have another
meeting, his 14th, with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as well as
other top Pakistani officials.
Painting a grim picture, Mullen said Afghan insurgents
were dominant in one-third of Afghanistan`s 34 provinces and
"the insurgency has grown more violent, more pervasive and
more sophisticated."

Mullen`s reference to militants based in Pakistan
appeared aimed at US efforts to press the Pakistani government
to step up its crackdown on extremists who have long used
their country as a refuge. The U.S. believes most of
al-Qaida`s top leadership has moved from Afghanistan to the
lawless border area just inside Pakistan.

Mullen said he believed, however, that Pakistan was
addressing the threat.

"I have seen Pakistan increase its commitment fairly
dramatically over the past 12 to 18 months," he said, adding
"I am completely convinced that the government of Pakistan and
the Pakistani military are very focused on this. They are
going after this threat, as they have very clearly over the
last year."

A military official who briefed members of Mullen`s staff
and reporters yesterday said the Haqqani network of Afghan
fighters has become the biggest threat to US forces in the
eastern part of the country.
That official and others who spoke on condition of
anonymity to describe sensitive operations said the Haqqani
area of sanctuary in Pakistan has gotten somewhat smaller,
which is a good sign.

Pressure on the fighters from the Pakistani military has
forced some over the border to Afghanistan, where they are
easier for US forces to kill, the officials said.

Last week, US officials in Washington said the Obama
administration was considering widening missile strikes on
al-Qaida and other militants inside Pakistan and planning to
bolster the training of Pakistan`s forces in the key border
areas. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
the information was sensitive.