U.S. General David Petraeus is visiting Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian nations for talks on regional security. His visit comes as the Obama administration prepares to take office, beginning a new chapter in the seven-year long war in Afghanistan.
General Petraeus arrived in Islamabad announcing agreements with Central Asian nations that are considered critical to supporting an expected increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Transportation routes through Pakistan carry the vast majority of supplies for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but those roads have increasingly come under attack. General Petraeus said countries north of Afghanistan have agreed to open new supply paths.
"It is very important as we increase the effort in Afghanistan that we have multiple routes that go into the country. There have been agreements reached and there are transit lines now and transit agreements that include several countries in the Central Asian states and also Russia," he said.
Attacks on convoys carrying supplies for foreign forces are just one indication of the widening instability in Pakistan. Pakistani troops regularly fight pitched battles with dozens or even hundreds of militants in the tribal areas. On Tuesday, the Pakistani military said troops and aircraft killed at least 20 Taliban insurgents near the Afghan border.
General Petraeus said he discussed security issues with Pakistani civilian and military leaders and pledged to support efforts to stabilize the country. But the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia was also expected to receive criticism over covert U.S. airstrikes against militant targets along the Afghan border.
Pakistani officials have roundly criticized the drone missile strikes, saying they boost local resentment against the U.S. and Pakistani governments. The incoming Obama administration has not clearly said whether it plans to change that policy.
Similar criticism is expected to await General Petraeus when he heads to Kabul later Tuesday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told lawmakers that while the country still welcomed the presence of foreign troops, the issue of civilian deaths has become intolerable.
"We never complained about the thousands of deaths of our police or hundreds of soldiers or even the killing of lawmakers and top security officials. But we are not accepting the civilian causalities still happening in the war against terrorism in our land," he said.
The president said the government has sent draft agreements to U.S. and NATO officials proposing the Afghan government exercise more control over foreign troop deployments.
Analysts have been increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for stabilizing Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban and a weak central Afghan government seen as riddled with corruption.
But General Petraeus expressed optimism in remarks to reporters in Islamabad, saying the inauguration of the new administration in the United States will bring progress to the effort to counter extremists that threaten Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of the world.