Pakistan-India Conflict Concerns U.S. Military
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2002 U.S. defense officials are concerned that, because of growing tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, authorities in Pakistan may divert troops from the tribal border area with Afghanistan, where al Qaeda and Taliban forces may be hiding.
"It is not helpful when their attention and some of their people have to be focused on other areas," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters at the Pentagon this morning. "Pakistan has been enormously helpful in the border (area)," she added. "We remain hopeful that they can and will stay committed to that effort."
U.S. officials are encouraging Pakistan to remain involved in the war on terrorism as extensively as they have been, Clarke said. "That obviously is a priority for us. It is a priority for the world," she said.
Given the porous nature of the border area, U.S. officials say al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and forces may be hiding in Pakistan and a number of other countries, she said. "If we knew exactly where some of these people where, we probably would have them."
Clarke said it's hard to estimate how many enemy forces may be in an area because they "tend not to be in large groups."
The U.S. government is working at all levels to help de- escalate the India-Pakistan conflict, Clarke said. "We understand what is going on there and we're doing our best with both countries to try to bring the level of tensions down," she said.
U.S. military officials admit concern about the situation in the tribal border area, Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa said. "If, in fact, (Pakistani) forces move away from that border, without confirming or denying force movements, but if they do, it obviously would have some type of impact," the Joint Staff spokesman said.
In an interview with the New York Times published May 28, Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the commander of American- led forces in Afghanistan, commented about intelligence reports. He said they indicated al Qaeda and Taliban leaders now in Pakistan were plotting terrorist attacks to disrupt the selection of a new national government in Kabul next month.
Rosa said he has not seen any such intelligence reports that the al Qaeda may be organizing to disrupt the upcoming meeting of Afghan elders. "You can suspect that might happen, given the nature of what's happened in the past," he said, "but I haven't seen specific reports that have said that."
Given Hagenbeck's position, Rosa noted, "I would believe what he has to say."
Rosa said there are no plans to increase the number of U.S. or coalition troops in Afghanistan. "I have seen nothing that would say that we're going to increase troop strength," he said. "That's always an option, but right now there are no plans."
U.S. officials continue seeking information from the detainees about possible future attacks. There are 255 detainees in U.S. control in Afghanistan, 384 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and one in Norfolk, Va.
"One of our main objectives, for obvious reasons, is to prevent future attacks on the American people, on our friends and allies," Clarke stressed. "One of the ways we can do that is to get information out of people."
Clarke said the detainees continue to get excellent care, including culturally appropriate food and excellent medical treatment. They also get the right to worship, she added, "which is not something that -- at least the last time I checked -- the al Qaeda wanted others to have."
"They are battlefield combatants and they are being held as such and they are being held appropriately," she said. As of yet, there are no plans to move any of the detainees back to their countries, she added.
"As we've said before," Clarke said, "we have no desire or intent to hold large numbers of people for a long time. So to the extent that we can work through arrangements with countries of origin for some of these people, and it's going to be handled appropriately, then we'll do so."
Regarding continuing operations in Afghanistan, Rosa said defense officials are trying to confirm reports that a 3- year-old girl died after falling down a well and a 100- year-old man died in U.S. custody during the latest U.S. raid on a suspected al Qaeda and Taliban compound. U.S. officials reported earlier that one enemy fighter was killed and two were wounded in the raid.
Before U.S. forces move on a compound, the general explained, they gather intelligence from all sources including the coalition and Afghan partners. In some cases, they've gone in and talked to people without detaining anyone. In others, they've detained people, but never fired.
"In cases where we go in and folks fire at us, we'll fire back, and in this case, that happened. Unfortunately, there were some folks hurt."