(CNN) -- The Pakistani military reported killing 40 militants Thursday near the border with Afghanistan -- the latest in a string of clashes in a frontier region rife with extremism.
Pakistani soldiers carry their weapons as they patrol.
On the other side of the border, however, security forces have made such gains that a top American commander said Wednesday he does not expect a Taliban offensive in eastern Afghanistan this spring.
The flare-up of violence on the Pakistani side of the border, along with the commander's comments in Washington, suggest that the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies may be focusing more on western Pakistan even as violence subsides just across the border in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently noted the increase in activity in Pakistan.
"Al Qaeda right now seems to have turned its face toward Pakistan and attacks on the Pakistani government and Pakistani people," he said on December 31.
In the latest clashes in Pakistan, the military said it killed 40 "miscreants" and detained 30 in South Waziristan, a remote tribal region on the Afghan border that is a stronghold for militants allied to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Clashes between the Pakistani armed forces and militants there have killed scores of people in recent weeks.
The increasing violence on the Pakistani border comes amid security improvements just over the border, in eastern Afghanistan, according to an assessment provided Wednesday by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, who commands American forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The general said Wednesday that he did not expect the Taliban to launch an offensive in eastern Afghanistan this spring, as some have expected.
The United States recently announced plans to send about 3,000 Marines to southern Afghanistan, however, citing the possibility of a spring offensive in that region.
In the eastern part of the country, Afghan and American security forces report fewer militants crossing into the country from Pakistan, Rodriguez said. Challenges remain, he said, but functioning local governments and increased commerce have boosted confidence.
"Every day in eastern Afghanistan, we see progress in security, development and governance," he said in a Pentagon press briefing. "The people of Afghanistan don't want the Taliban back, and the strength of their institutions has grown significantly in the last year." E-mail to a friend
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