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After setbacks, U.S. military tries to rebuild ties with Pakistani military

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KABUL — When Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti was the U.S. military commander in eastern Afghanistan last year, he toured the battlefield with his counterparts from Pakistan along both sides of the porous border.

U.S. and Pakistani troops conducted coordinated operations to squeeze Taliban insurgents seeking sanctuary in the rugged mountains along the border.

After U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden in May on Pakistani soil, however, such border cooperation — and even basic dialogue between American and Pakistani troops — came to a grinding halt.

As a high-level U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed for more political cooperation last week, Scaparrotti, now the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan, is working to restart the military dialogue.

“After May, this relationship is not what it was, say, a year ago,” Scaparrotti said in an interview at his headquarters here. “My intent is to start rebuilding this on a mil-to-mil basis, at least.”

A week before Clinton’s visit to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, Scaparrotti met with top Pakistani military officials and pressed for reestablishing “routine daily communication” and discussions of how to deal with insurgents.

“If we work together, we can have a joint effect on [the insurgents], and we need to do so,” Scaparrotti said.

The main thrust of the American message is that Pakistan must do more to combat the Haqqani network, a Taliban-linked insurgent group that is responsible for many attacks in Kabul. U.S. officials believe Pakistan’s government supports — or at least permits — operations by Haqqani fighters from within Pakistan.

Tension over the network grew after recent attacks on the U.S. Embassy and a British cultural center in Kabul, as well as an increase in cross-border shelling this year in Paktika province. Scaparrotti said shelling from Pakistan was falling on U.S. and Afghan border units at four times the rate of last year.

Although some have accused the Pakistani military of firing into Afghanistan, Scaparrotti blamed insurgents, who sometimes use the tactic to divert American attention to one area as they drive truck convoys of weapons and fighters across other parts of the border.

Pakistani officials say they do not want to wage an operation in the Haqqani stronghold of North Waziristan and risk overextending their military. “When you talk to their military leadership, they will say it’s a matter of capacity, and there’s some truth to that, but we need them to get focused on the Haqqani network,” Scaparrotti said.

U.S. and Afghan troops have intensified their campaign against the network. Last week, two U.S. military brigades, Afghan and U.S. Special Operations troops, and Afghan police and army units launched Operation Knife Edge in Logar, Wardak and Ghazni provinces — all Haqqani network strongholds south of Kabul.

Coalition troops pulled drone aircraft and other intelligence assets away from southern Afghanistan for the operation, which is intended to help pinpoint Haqqani fighters, officials said. A total of 11,000 coalition troops and 25,000 Afghan security forces are involved.

That operation and another recent one resulted in the death or capture of about 200 insurgents, said a spokesman for the NATO coalition. At least 20 of those captured or killed were Haqqani fighters or had links to the network.

“We have taken a lot of operatives off the battlefield,” another senior coalition military official said. “The effect has been ‘so far, so good.’ It’s been a classic disrupt operation, in that they’ve gone to ground, they’re laying low, they are moving in response to our operations.

“And all the time they’re doing that, so far they’ve been able to do very, very little offensively or proactively. And that’s exactly the purpose of the operation.”

Scaparrotti said he has seen some encouraging signs of resumed Pakistan-U.S. military cooperation in the past month, including a conference between coalition troops and the commander of the Pakistani army’s 11th Corps, which operates along the border.

“We’ve seen a commitment on their part to begin to reconnect here on some of the things that were more standard a little over a year ago,” Scaparrotti said.

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