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US to Continue Afghan Operations During Winter


A top U.S. military commander says coalition forces in Afghanistan will continue to press Taliban and al-Qaida elements during the coming winter in spite of the severe weather in much of the country. In a VOA interview, the officer also said Pakistan is showing signs it may be willing to do more to eliminate safe havens on its side of the border. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kabul.

The commander of U.S. Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, says his forces will continue their operations during what is usually a slower period for fighting in Afghanistan.

"I think it'd be fair to say that we're not going to wait for springtime," said Admiral Fallon. "We're going to continue to try and expand stability and security during the winter months, particularly in those areas that are not severely affected."

The admiral, who is responsible for U.S. military activities across East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, was in Afghanistan to gather information for an assessment he plans to give U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates early next year. The admiral says he wants to ensure that U.S. forces, operating mainly in eastern Afghanistan, are pursuing the best strategy to establish security and stability. The NATO alliance, which is responsible for security in the rest of the country, is also reportedly conducting a review.

Admiral Fallon acknowledges there was an increase in attacks by Taliban forces during the past year, but he says allied forces still have the initiative. He also says Pakistan's leaders may be getting closer to sending regular army forces to parts of the Afghan border zone, where the less well-trained border patrol has the main responsibility.

"What we've seen in the last several months is more of a willingness to use their regular army units out there [along the border]," he said. "And this is where, I think, we can help a lot from the U.S. in providing the kind of training and assistance and mentoring based on our experience with insurgencies recently and with the terrorist problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we share a lot with them, and we'll look forward to doing that."

The admiral says he is particularly encouraged by the announcement that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who he met with on Thursday, will visit Pakistan next week for a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf.

"I'm encouraged because there have been frictions in the past between the two, but they've had a number of meetings here just in the eight months or so that I've been in command," said Admiral Fallon. "And I've seen the relationship go from very frosty to warming. And I will certainly do what I can to encourage that because it's so important for the future of both countries."

President Karzai told Admiral Fallon he wants to have a "heart to heart" talk with President Musahrraf.

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