WASHINGTON (AFP) — Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militants are staying behind in Pakistan to fight the government there, contributing to a drop in cross-border infiltrations into eastern Afghanistan, a top US commander said Wednesday.
Major General David Rodriguez said he does not expect insurgents to mount a spring offensive this year in eastern Afghanistan, once one of the most violent areas of the country.
"The enemy will try to take advantage of some of the challenges they are having over there (in Pakistan) right now," said Rodriguez, who commands US forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The political turmoil in Pakistan is one reason fewer militants are crossing the border this year compared to last, he said.
But US and Afghan forces also have had been better success in stemming the flow of fighters from safe havens in Pakistan, and overall security has improved markedly in the eastern Afghan border region over the past year, Rodriguez said.
"What that has done is reduce the area from which the enemy can conduct operations from the support base there. We've significantly restricted their freedom of movement," he said.
Rodriguez said he needs about 800 trainers for the police in his sector but otherwise has enough troops.
"I don't think there will be a big spring offensive this year," he said. "The people of Afghanistan don't want the Taliban back, and the strength of their institutions has grown significantly in the past year."
Despite the improvements in eastern Afghanistan, NATO-led forces face a much tougher insurgent challenge in southern Afghanistan.
The United States announced plans to deploy 3,200 marines to Afghanistan by April, two thirds of which will be used to beef up NATO forces in the south ahead of a spring offensive.
Rodriguez said Taliban and other militant groups have been coordinating their short term goals more closely over the past year, and appear to have focused on Pakistan.
"So I think that again they will move where the best opportunity so as to get the highest pay-offs," he said. "Right now that probably seems to be in Pakistan based on what's happened over the last couple of months here."
He said the Pakistani military increasingly recognizes them as a threat, and have begun to make the shift toward counter-insurgency warfare.
"They are working, for example, to develop a better capacity to do counterinsurgency operations like any other nation because that has not been their forte," he said." They are adjusting their military right now to do those things."
Rodriguez said US forces in Afghanistan communicate and share information with the Pakistanis, but he knew of no plans to conduct unilateral operations inside Pakistan.
"We have no plans that I'm involved in, or even heard of, to do anything like that. So I'm not going to comment on it," he said.
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