02 March 2007

U.S. forces pursue Taliban into Pakistan

By Lolita C. Baldor
The Associated Press, 01 March 2007

WASHINGTON - American forces on Afghanistan's eastern border routinely fire upon and pursue Taliban enemies into Pakistan, defense officials told Congress on Thursday, offering the most detailed description to date of U.S. action in that region.

They said the Taliban threat is greater now than it was a year ago, and they agreed that the Pakistan government can and must do more to get at the large, ungoverned sectors along the remote Pakistan border that are safe havens for Taliban insurgents.

"We have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border," said Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute told the
Senate Armed Services Committee. Lute, who is chief operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said soldiers can respond if there is an imminent threat. But he said they would have to seek the Pakistan government's permission to go after a munitions factory further inside the Pakistani border.

The discussion came just days after Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in an effort to urge a more aggressive Pakistani effort to hunt al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who are expected to increase attacks into Afghanistan this spring.

The Pakistani military has been more aggressive in going after al-Qaida than the Taliban, who are more protected by tribal leaders in some of the border regions.

Musharraf has insisted that his forces have done all they can against the extremists, but senators said it's simply not enough. And they quizzed Lute and undersecretary of defense for policy, Eric S. Edelman, about what more the U.S. can do if Pakistan won't or cannot do more.

"I think we really have no alternative but to continue to work with him as best we can to encourage him to do more," Edelman said under repeated questioning from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. "It means he has to face some difficult political choices at home and we have to encourage him to face up to those."

There have been suggestions that Congress could cut off some aid to Pakistan, but there was no discussion of that Thursday.

Lute, meanwhile, provided a detailed description of when U.S. forces can fire on and pursue insurgents across the border into Pakistan. He said they can respond when faced with a hostile act, or anyone "demonstrating hostile intent." The final decision is made by the commander at the scene.

He would not say, however, if there are restrictions on how far into the country soldiers can go. He said the decision is based not on distance, but on the immediacy of the threat involved.

"If just across the border, inside Pakistan, we have surveillance systems that detect a Taliban party setting up a rocket system which is obviously pointed west, into Afghanistan, we do not have to wait for the rockets to be fired. They have demonstrated hostile intent and we can engage them," Lute said.

He added that if U.S. forces learned of a munitions factory inside Pakistan, they would have to share that intelligence with the government, and would have to get permission to strike the building. Asked if Pakistan had ever turned down such a request, Lute said he would have to answer that in a closed, classified setting.

Asked about Iran's involvement in roadside bombs in Afghanistan, Edelman said it is not the same situation as in Iraq. Military officials have displayed weapons and other equipment they said is evidence that Iran is deeply involved in deadly explosives being used in Iraq.

"We do not have the body of evidence in Afghanistan as we do in Iraq," Edelman said. "So the sophistication of the (explosive devices) is, sort of, in a different order of magnitude."

Citation: Lolita C. Baldor. "U.S. forces pursue Taliban into Pakistan," The Associated Press, 01 March 2007.
Original URL: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070301/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_afghanistan