Gates voices Afghan worries

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that he has “real concern” about a sharp rise in attacks in eastern Afghanistan, and he blamed the spike on Pakistan's failure to put pressure on insurgents there.

Gates said he welcomed recent vows by Pakistani officials to prevent militants from launching attacks across the border into Afghanistan. And he said he hopes the comments indicate a willingness by Pakistan to assert more pressure on those tribal areas.

“It actually was not bad until a few months ago,” he said, when the Pakistani government began negotiating peace or cease-fire deals with a variety of militant groups in areas bordering Afghanistan.

“The pressure was taken off these people,” as a result of such deals, he added. And that has meant fighters are “now more free to cross the border and create problems for us,” Gates said.

Gates was asked at a Pentagon news conference what he thought of a report by a senior U.S. general in Afghanistan on Tuesday that insurgent attacks in the east have increased by 40 percent this year.

“It is a matter of concern – real concern,” Gates replied. “It's an issue that clearly we have to pursue with the Pakistani government.”

On Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with his top military and intelligence officials, and later released a statement saying the government would not allow the tribal areas to descend into chaos.

Reserving the right to use military force, Gilani said that “Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan.”

The U.S. has committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan next year, but any buildup would depend on the Pentagon's ability to reduce troop levels in Iraq.