Islamabad, Pakistan — Pentagon Chief Robert Gates, in his push for a coordinated assault against the Taliban in Afghanistan this spring, is enlisting Pakistan's help and vowing better military coordination along the troubled border between the two countries.
After four days of entreaties to NATO allies, seeking more military and economic development resources for the Afghanistan war, Gates tacked 30 hours of travel onto his trip to meet in Islamabad with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The lengthy detour underscored how critical this time is in the Afghan conflict, which has dragged on for five years, and has seen escalating violence and a persistent problem with Taliban militants crossing the porous border from Pakistan.
"I think there's a mutual interest in improving our effectiveness and improving our coordination, and the understanding that we have a real opportunity this spring," Gates said after his hourlong meeting with Musharraf.
Pakistan, a close U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, has denied charges that the Taliban are staging attacks from inside Pakistan and says it has deployed some 80,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan to track down militants.
In their meeting, Musharraf told Gates "the problems of extremism and terrorism were indigenous to Afghanistan" and had spilled over into Pakistan, according to a government statement. The statement quoted him as saying it was imperative to close camps for Afghan refugees in Pakistan that provided a "safe haven" for militants.
Gates said the meeting was not aimed at securing assurances of action from the Pakistanis, who have been criticized for failing to adequately secure their border. Musharraf, he added, has been meeting with his military commanders to see how they can improve their operations along the border.