Monday, February 26, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Pakistan yesterday to press President Pervez Musharraf to step up the campaign to counter increased attacks by al Qaeda and Taliban forces against neighboring Afghanistan, officials said.

The stop was the latest sign of growing U.S. unease over resurgent Islamic terrorism in the region, but Gen. Musharraf insisted his forces have “done the maximum” possible against extremists in their territory.

Mr. Cheney, accompanied by CIA Deputy Director Steve Kappes on a tour of several Asian allies, made an unannounced stop in Pakistan en route to Afghanistan, where snow prevented him from reaching Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The vice president made no public comment in Pakistan, but a senior aide to Gen. Musharraf said they held detailed talks, including a private lunch of more than an hour.

“Cheney expressed U.S. apprehensions of regrouping of al Qaeda in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat,” Gen. Musharraf’s office said.

President Bush recently announced an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and officials in Britain and Turkey said yesterday they would be adding a combined 1,600 troops to the NATO-led mission in the country. The alliance about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan.

“Put simply, the alternative is unacceptable,” British Defense Minister Des Browne told Parliament. He said Britain also would be sending four more Harrier jets, four Sea King helicopters and a C-130 Hercules transport plane.

U.S. and NATO officials praise Pakistan publicly for its role in arresting al Qaeda suspects after the September 11 attacks in 2001 and for a string of bloody operations against militants along the border. But U.S. and Afghan leaders are increasingly critical of Pakistan’s efforts to curb al Qaeda and Taliban cross-border operations.

U.S. military officials said last month that attacks from Pakistan have increased fourfold since Gen. Musharraf struck a widely criticized deal last fall that put local tribes in charge of much of the security in the border area of North Waziristan.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday, “The Pakistanis remain committed to doing everything possible to fight al Qaeda, but having said that, we also know that there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”

U.S. officials have been reluctant to press Gen. Musharraf too hard for fear of undermining his political standing at home and encouraging Pakistan’s own militant Islamic factions.

Mr. Cheney’s visit was kept secret until the last moment for security reasons. He landed at a military base outside Islamabad and took a helicopter to the presidential palace.

Gen. Musharraf has argued that Pakistan is being unfairly singled out for problems rooted in the U.S.-sponsored battle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He also says there is no evidence that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or the Taliban’s Mullah Mohammed Omar are on Pakistani soil.

The Pakistani leader also expressed concern about proposed U.S. legislation that would link U.S. military aid to Pakistan’s record in containing militant attacks. U.S. officials have said they hope to persuade congressional Democrats to drop the link before the bill, which passed the House in January, becomes law.

Pakistani officials acknowledge the North Waziristan deal has not been properly implemented, but argue that large-scale military action by the government would only alienate moderate tribal groups.

U.S. military officials in Kabul say suicide bombings in Afghanistan jumped from 27 in 2005 to 139 last year, while direct- and indirect-fire attacks on Afghan and allied troops nearly tripled. U.S. and NATO officials say the anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban this year could be the most potent since the 2001-2002 U.S.-led campaign.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Cheney landed at Bagram Air Base, about 30 miles north of Kabul. He had planned to travel to the capital, but a steady snowfall made the trip unsafe, and the two leaders hope to meet today, an aide to Mr. Karzai said.

• Staff writer David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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