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Gates Calls for Better Security on Pakistan-Afghanistan Border, Welcomes Pakistani Initiative

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed concern about the continuing ease with which insurgents based in Pakistan are able to cross into Afghanistan, and welcomed the plan the Pakistani government announced Wednesday to try to change the situation. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates says the increased insurgent activity in the U.S. sector in Eastern Afghanistan is "a real concern." He says progress in the area during the last year is at risk, in part because of the porous border with Pakistan.

"Regional Command-East has been a success story. But clearly the ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to cross that border and not being under any pressure from the Pakistani side of the border is clearly a concern. I think that needs to be addressed with the Pakistani government," he said.

Earlier this week, the new U.S. commander in Eastern Afghanistan, Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, said attacks in his area were up 40 percent during the first five months of the year, compared to the same period last year. He also said the attacks are more complex, and are sometimes aimed at schools and development projects, with the apparent goal of discrediting the Afghan government.

Secretary Gates acknowledged the problem, and welcomed a statement Wednesday by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, announcing a new initiative to get control of the border area.

"In some measure, the challenges that we're facing in Afghanistan, in RC-South and RC-East are, as I say, in some measure, a result of the relaxation of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border. And my hope is that the prime minister's statement indicates a willingness to reassert that pressure," he said. RC stands for Regional Command.

Secretary Gates says the United States will pursue the issue with the Pakistani government.