Strategy targets Pakistan ties

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NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

KABUL, Afghanistan | The new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, said he will visit Pakistan in the next few weeks to coordinate strategy amid a deteriorating relationship between the two U.S. allies.

As a NATO command, the mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) “does not extend across the border to Pakistan,” Gen. McKiernan told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview. “So we do have a right to self-defense, but we do not have any ISAF military operations in the sovereign territory of Pakistan.”

“But part of the security environment and challenge in Afghanistan are the materials, the insurgents, the leadership that comes across the border from [Pakistan’s] North West Frontier Province.”

The NATO-led ISAF has about 33,000 American troops as part of an international force of nearly 70,000.

Gen. McKiernan said he was eager to establish a good relationship with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

“I want, as a new commander in this environment, to establish a relationship with him and the Afghan leadership, and to bring that process further along,” he said.

In a process that will include Gen. McKiernan, Gen. Kayani and top Afghan military leaders, the ISAF commander said they will “meet and discuss security issues that affect the border area.”

Gen. McKiernan told The Times that a “liaison between Pakistan’s military and ISAF along the border” already exists, but “we need to build on that.”

“There is certainly a rise in violence in the south and eastern parts of Afghanistan,” he said. “We’ve got to win those areas.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has threatened to send Afghan troops into Pakistan to fight Taliban and al Qaeda militants thought to be sheltering there.

Though the Afghan government later clarified the remarks to mean hot pursuit in a combat situation, the flurry of rhetoric from both sides illustrated the tensions between governments in Kabul and Islamabad that Gen. McKiernan hopes to ease.

After just three weeks as the new commander, Gen. McKiernan said he has no doubts about his mission: “I’m here to win.”

Gen. McKiernan, who has replaced Army Gen. Dan McNeil as commander of the 40-nation ISAF, said that winning in Afghanistan is essential to “global security” and that “winning is not about the NATO alliance, the future of NATO or any of that, but about the Afghan government, Afghanistan and the Afghan people.”

He returned to his Kabul headquarters earlier in the week after visiting troops throughout the war-torn nation’s 34 provinces, and said he would visit neighboring Pakistan sometime in the next few weeks.

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