In Pakistan and Afghanistan, Cheney Pushes for Al Qaeda Crackdown

Vice-President Dick Cheney meets with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. (Photo courtesy
Vice-President Dick Cheney meets with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. (Photo courtesy

by Jonathan Karl, ABC News

Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan today to press for help in the war on terror.

The trip comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. and coalition forces prepare for a major new "spring offensive" against Taliban militants.

In Afghanistan, Cheney was to meet with U.S. military officials before meeting with Karzai. The trip was a closely guarded secret.

Because of security concerns, reporters traveling with Cheney were asked not to report on the trip until Cheney was on the ground in Afghanistan.

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Taliban insurgents have launched their heaviest attacks in the springtime, as the harsh winter subsides and the snows melt.

A top Taliban commander recently warned that this year's spring offensive would be the deadliest yet.

"This year will prove to be the bloodiest for the foreign troops. It is not just a threat. We will prove it," a Taliban commander named Mullah Dadullah told Reuters last week.

This year U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are vowing their own "spring offensive" and have added additional firepower to take the fight to the Taliban.

There are now 35,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan, including 27,000 U.S. troops, the largest U.S. military presence ever in Afghanistan. Britain and Australia also plan to send additional troops.

Often overshadowed by the war in Iraq, violence in Afghanistan has steadily increased over the last year.

There was a fivefold increase in suicide bombings in 2006. Karzai has blamed Pakistan for allowing terrorists to conduct attacks from Pakistani territory, an accusation Pakistan bitterly denies.

But U.S. officials agree with Karzai that Taliban and al Qaeda militants have found a safe haven in the largely ungoverned tribal areas of western Pakistan.

Before coming to Afghanistan, Cheney went to Pakistan, where he urged President Pervez Musharraf to take action against terrorists operating on Pakistani territory.

Earlier today, Cheney was in Pakistan to meet with Musharraf to urge Pakistan to take more forceful action against terrorists operating near the border with Afghanistan.

The trip was made with extraordinary secrecy and tight security. After landing at the airport, Cheney traveled via military helicopter into Islamabad.

Reporters traveling with the vice president were asked not to report on Cheney's whereabouts until long after he had arrived in Pakistan and after his meeting with Musharraf at the presidential palace had already begun.

Cheney's visit comes amid signs of dramatically increased terrorist activity in Pakistan's western tribal areas.

U.S. officials say that small al Qaeda training camps have sprung up along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and that Taliban militants are increasingly using the area as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda's senior leadership -- including Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri -- is believed to be in western Pakistan.

In an indication that al Qaeda's senior leaders had found a relatively safe haven, bin Laden and Zawahiri released more than 20 video and audio statements last year, about twice as many as the year before.

"Taliban and al Qaeda figures do hide in remote areas of Pakistan," President Bush said in a speech earlier this month. "This is wild country. This is wilder than the Wild West, and these folks hide and recruit and launch attacks."

About the time of that speech, Bush asked Cheney to travel to Pakistan to raise the issue directly with Musharraf.

The problem has grown considerably worse, U.S. officials say, since Musharraf signed a peace deal with tribal leaders in western Pakistan.

The deal called for Musharraf to pull Pakistani troops out of the area in exchange for a promise from tribal leaders to crack down on terrorist activity. The Pakistani troops pulled out, but U.S. officials say terrorist activity only increased.

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