U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had complimentary words for Pakistan Monday, even though the U.S. and Afghan governments have long been complaining that Taleban insurgents are using Pakistani border areas for attacks into Afghanistan.
After meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf here, the Pentagon chief told reporters at an air base near Islamabad their discussions focused on how to prevent militant activity on the border.
"We talked about the importance of seizing the offensive this spring to deal the Taleban and al-Qaida a strategic set back," said Gates. "So, I think there is a mutual interest in improving our effectiveness, improving our coordination, and the understanding that we have a real opportunity this spring."
The year 2006 saw the deadliest upsurge in violence in Afghanistan since the removal of the Taleban regime five and a half years ago. There are fears Taleban extremists will step up their attacks as warmer weather melts snow in the mountain passes the insurgents use for infiltration from the Pakistani side of the border.
President Musharraf and other Pakistani officials have repeatedly argued they are not to blame for the rising violence in Afghanistan, saying they have taken all possible steps to secure the border.
Gates said those steps were being taken at a high cost.
"My sense is that Pakistan is playing a very constructive role," added Gates. "It's incurring significant cost in lives, and I might add in treasure, in fighting this battle on the border. There are always ways that all of us can improve, that includes NATO and the U.S, the Afghans. "
He admitted that the United States neglected Afghanistan after Soviet troops withdrew from the country in 1989. The defense secretary says that policy encouraged extremist forces to take control of the country, where the terrorist strikes on the United States in September 2001 were planned.
"After the Soviets left, the United States made a mistake. We neglected Afghanistan and extremism took control of that country," he said. "The United States paid a price for that on September 11, 2001. We won't make that mistake again. We are here for the long haul."
Even as Gates and Mr. Musharraf were meeting, news reports were quoting the governor of Afghanistan's Helmand province as saying 700 insurgents had crossed over from Pakistan in advance of a suspected military operation.