BAGRAM, Afghanistan April 12 —
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is calling for coordinated
border patrols by Pakistan and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to cut
off escape routes for terrorists.
"We hope they (Pakistan) will put more troops operating in the
field and join us in running complementary operations on our
respective sides of the border," Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill told The
Associated Press in an interview.
Better coordination would help tighten the noose on al-Qaida
leader Osama bin Laden and help stop other terrorists from escaping
across the border, McNeill said.
McNeill indicated the 23-nation coalition force could scale back
its presence in Afghanistan by July 2004, when Afghanistan is due to
elect a government to replace the interim administration of
President Hamid Karzai.
By that time, the general said, the core of Afghanistan's new
national army should have reached its full size. U.S., British and
French forces have trained about 3,000 soldiers so far, and will
continue to train an additional 800 men every five weeks.
Coalition forces will stay in Afghanistan at least until the
elections and some countries will likely stay on after negotiating
military cooperation agreements with the newly elected government,
McNeill's prediction for phasing down by mid-2004 may be
optimistic, however, in view of the difficulties Karzai's government
has faced so far in fashioning a cohesive force from the factional
fighters who have dominated Afghanistan for decades.
McNeill spoke inside the U.S. headquarters for the war in
Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base, from where he commands a
multinational force of 11,500 troops.
On Wednesday, a U.S. warplane supporting Afghan allies mistakenly
bombed a house, killing 11 civilians, while pursuing attackers who
had earlier fought with Pakistani soldiers at the border. McNeill
said the incident was "very tragic."
He said the coalition was taking the fight to the former Afghan
rulers, Taliban, as well as al-Qaida.
"We're on the offensive and we're going to stay on the
offensive," he said. "We're not allowing them the opportunity to
hunker down in any one place and establish themselves."
About 8,500 U.S. troops form the backbone of the coalition force
He praised the Pakistani efforts, saying they had captured some
450 terrorists, including high-ranking Taliban and al-Qaida
As for hunting down the al-Qaida leaders responsible for the
Sept. 11 attacks, McNeill said he doesn't know whether bin Laden is
dead or alive. However, the former head of the Taliban regime,
Mullah Omar, has slipped in and out of Afghanistan on more than one
occasion, he said.
"Some very senior Afghan leaders tell me that if Mullah Omar
walked in the room, they wouldn't know who he was unless somebody
told them," McNeill said. "He's almost like a ghost."
"I can tell he's probably moving around a bit," said looking out
into the war room. "But if he goes in the areas where he used to
find sanctuary, he will now find coalition forces."
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