The Bush administration is set to re-energize its terrorism-fighting war efforts in Afghanistan. The U.S. is also refocusing on Pakistan, where al-Qaeda militants have been gaining strength.
Analysts say success in Afghanistan depends on whether the U.S. can help stop the inner turmoil in Pakistan.
Battling Islamic Extremism
Some senior U.S. military commanders have privately said that Pakistan's tribal areas are at the center of the fight against Islamic extremism -- more so than Iraq, or even Afghanistan.
These areas border on eastern Afghanistan and provide a haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters to regroup, rearm, and reorganize.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a press conference last week that while the U.S. respects the Pakistani government's right to decide what actions are needed to defeat extremists on its soil, there are reasons to worry that al-Qaeda poses more than an internal threat to Pakistan.
"I think we are all concerned about the re-establishment of al-Qaeda safe havens in the border area," Gates said. "I think it would be unrealistic to assume that all of the planning that they're doing is focused strictly on Pakistan. So I think that that is a continuing threat to Europe as well as to us."
Pakistan Opposes Foreign Forces on its Soil
Currently, the U.S. has deployed only about 100 troops in Pakistan, including personnel who are training Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps in the western tribal region along the Afghanistan border.
Administration officials say they would send more U.S. combat troops, if the country decides to cooperate.
On Friday, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, said his country opposes any foreign forces on its soil. Musharraf said the U.S. instead should bolster its combat forces in Afghanistan.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has grown over the past two years from about 20,000 to the current total of 28,000. That is the highest number of the war, which began in October 2001.
The total is to jump by 3,200 this spring with a new influx of Marine reinforcements, including 2,200 combat troops who will bolster a NATO-led counterinsurgency force in the south.
Majority of Troops Still in Iraq
The vast majority of deployed U.S. troops are still in Iraq, although the force of nearly 160,000 is set on a downward trend. In recent weeks U.S. officials have spoken of Iraq as moving toward stability, with al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters weakened and possibly forced to make a last stand.
Gates recently rejected a Marine Corps proposal to move the 20,000-plus Marine contingent in Iraq to Afghanistan, reflecting a worry that Iraq's progress is still fragile.
Just last month Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the war in Afghanistan is a secondary priority. "In Afghanistan we do what we can. In Iraq we do what we must," he said.
Yet it is apparent that as security conditions in Iraq improve, the administration is looking closer at what needs to be done in Afghanistan to counter recent gains by the Taliban.
The Taliban ruled the country in the late 1990s and provided haven and support for bin Laden as his global terrorist network laid the groundwork from Afghanistan for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Source: The Associated Press