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Rice bid to crack down on Taliban

Another 10,000 troops to join frontier hunt for Taliban, al Qaeda
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.



Condoleezza Rice

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in Afghanistan, one day after visiting Pakistan where leaders said they are moving 10,000 more troops to the frontier to crack down on the Taliban.

The deployment comes as part of a U.S.-led crackdown on militants there, Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said Tuesday. The northwestern tribal region has in the past been impervious to Islamabad's influence.

During a sometimes tense session with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and Kasuri, Rice's hosts chided neighboring Afghanistan for criticizing their efforts to secure the border from Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

About 650 Pakistani troops have been "martyred" in clashes with militants, including seven killed in a suicide attack Monday, Kasuri said.

If Kabul would take reports of militant activity directly to the Pakistanis, rather than passing it through U.S. intelligence, it would be easier for Islamabad to snuff out the militants, he added.

"Tell us where they're hiding. We promise to investigate and take action," Kasuri said. "Simply saying, 'So-and-so is hiding in Quetta' will not get you anywhere."

The top U.S. diplomat sought to play down the differences between the two U.S. allies, and she is expected to make a strong and public showing of support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday.

"I think, the president thinks, the American administration believes this is an extraordinary leader. Afghanistan is fortunate to have President Karzai at its helm," Reuters quoted Rice as telling reporters as she flew to the region.

Karzai's leadership has come under question and his popularity has slumped amid a surge in Taliban violence. Rice is keen to persuade Pakistan and Afghanistan to work more closely together to combat the militants.

Afghan troops, British soldiers and Taliban militants are fighting what were reported to be deadly battles in southeast Afghanistan.

Rice, who stopped in Pakistan en route to a Group of Eight foreign ministers conference in Moscow, Russia, said the United States is working with both Afghanistan and Pakistan "to unify our efforts" against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

"This is a very difficult time for both Afghanistan and Pakistan," she said. "There are attacks by these terrorists against both of these countries, and I think they are united in wanting to beat them."

In recent weeks U.S., Afghan and NATO forces have launched assaults on Taliban safe havens in Afghanistan's southeast provinces. Many militants fled there after the hard-line Islamic government was ousted in 2001.

Included in the crackdown is Operation Mountain Thrust, in which 10,000 U.S., Afghan and coalition troops are fighting militants and building roads and medical facilities, according to the U.S. military.

U.S., British and French warplanes also have recently stepped up airstrikes in the area.

On Tuesday four Afghan troops, two British soldiers and 29 Taliban militants were killed during gun battles in the region, U.S. and Afghan authorities said. Five U.S. troops have been killed in the area in the past week. (Full story)

Pakistan now has about 80,000 troops in the mountainous region. They frequently have engaged in battles with Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, Kasuri said.

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