A senior U.S. military commander, visiting Afghanistan, is playing down the possibility of an upsurge in combat activity by remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the former Taleban government.
General Peter Pace of the U.S. Marine Corps is on a two-day visit to Afghanistan to get a first-hand look at American military operations here. General Pace is vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He arrived early Thursday at the U.S. military headquarters at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. He had consultations with Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, commander of American forces in Afghanistan.
General Pace also met the Turkish commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Kabul, General Hilmi Akin Zorlu. While in the Afghan capital, General Pace also saw the president of the transitional Afghan Government, Hamid Karzai.
In remarks to reporters, the general played down predictions by an American military spokesman at Bagram that the coming weeks could see increased attacks by remnants of al-Qaida and the Taleban.
"Certainly this year is much different than last year, as far as the array of forces on the battlefield," he said. " It is very definitely a dangerous environment to be operating in. We need, all of us, to maintain our vigilance. I am also encouraged by the fact that this country now, compared to this time last year, has had a complete reversal of fortunes and, in fact, is making progress towards stability and peace for its people."
General Pace said some of the credit for Afghanistan's progress goes to the military forces of the United States and its coalition partners.
"This has been a very difficult transition from the oppressive Taleban government to now, thanks to the Loya Jirga, to the interim government here for Afghanistan and I wanted to thank my own forces and the forces of other countries for all the work they have done to make that possible," the general said.
General Pace says there were no discussions with General McNeill about changing American military tactics in Afghanistan. His remarks follow recent reports American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants a more aggressive campaign against remaining elements of al-Qaida and the Taleban.