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US Defense Secretary Says Afghan Border Attacks Increasing

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States would like to see Pakistan do more to stem the increased number of attacks on Afghanistan from its territory. Speaking in Kabul, Gates also says he would approve an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan if commanders believe they need it to sustain gains made against insurgents last year. VOA's Al Pessin is monitoring developments from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates told reporters in Kabul there have been more attacks from the Pakistani side of the border in recent months. "There is no question that there has been a significant increase, I do not know the exact amount, but a significant increase in attacks from across the border and particularly North and South Waziristan. And it is a problem," he said.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the cross-border attacks more than doubled in December. The increase follows a controversial agreement Pakistan's government signed with tribal leaders along the border, giving them responsibility for stopping attacks. Secretary Gates said the tribal areas along the Pakistani side of the border are home to what he called "al-Qaida networks," and that more must be done to bring them under control. "Pakistan is one of America's strongest allies in the war on terror, and we will continue working with the Pakistanis to see if there is a way that we can begin to reduce the violence coming from that side of the border," he said.

Secretary Gates said that during his one month on the job, he has been working to ensure that military successes made in Afghanistan last year are sustained. U.S., Afghan and NATO forces launched an offensive against Taliban insurgents after an increase in attacks last spring.

The annual winter lull in fighting has been interrupted in southern and eastern Afghanistan by the attacks from Pakistan. The secretary said he believes U.S. and allied forces must do whatever is necessary to respond to those attacks and to any further insurgent offensive this spring. "I think it is important for us to take the initiative in dealing with security threats, that we act together on this, and if the commanders in the field believe that more forces are required to do that, then I certainly would be strongly inclined to recommend that to the president," he said.

The U.S. defense secretary spoke after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said he hopes the insurgents do try another offensive in the spring, so they can be defeated as they were last year. "The Afghan people and the international partners of us, the United States, NATO, are ready to give terrorism a serious blow when they come. And we want them to come and get defeated," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Secretary Gates and Afghanistan's defense minister visited a security post along the border, where troops are trying to intercept attackers from Pakistan.