U.S. general praises help from Pakistan with fugitives

Thursday, May 16, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The head of U.S. operations in Afghanistan praised the Pakistani president for his cooperation in the hunt for al-Qaida fugitives, but said Wednesday the work of the ever-changing mission is not nearing an end.

"Is it about over? I wouldn't think so," Gen. Tommy Franks said during a daylong visit to Afghanistan, where he met American troops and helped the first crop of Afghan army recruits launch their training.

"The enemy has been difficult and the enemy remains difficult," he said.

Franks said operations against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan must continue. The region, much of which functions under tribal law and is only nominally controlled by the Pakistani government, is a suspected haven for terrorism suspects who have fled American military action in Afghanistan.

"Do we have work that we must do in that border area in the near future? Yes, we do," Franks said. But "President Musharraf and his government have been exceedingly cooperative. The fact of the matter is that I am pleased with the cooperation."

Washington considers Pervez Musharraf's continuing cooperation -- first pledged days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States -- crucial to the fight against terrorism in Central and South Asia.

Troops to border

Franks' comments came as Pakistan, under U.S. pressure to seal border gaps, sent more than 1,000 troops into a semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border, where Washington believes al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts may be hiding, a local official in Pakistan said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed Franks' assessment in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

The U.S.- and British-led search for Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts "has been a success but it is not complete yet," Blair said on the BBC's "Newsnight" program.

"If you look at the al-Qaida terrorist network, I'm not saying that they won't still try to carry out terrorist acts, but they have been wiped out, effectively, in Afghanistan. They're on the run. I've got no doubt at all that in the end we will secure" suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Franks' visit Wednesday to the Afghanistan national army training facility in a sprawling compound just east of Kabul was to preside over a flag-raising for the fledgling army's recruits.

He reviewed and saluted new Afghan troops as sharpshooters atop nearby buildings watched the valley. The compound, occupied by Taliban and al-Qaida forces before the Islamic regime fell in November, is the site of intensive training of Afghan army recruits by U.S. special forces.

The recruits, in padded camouflage garb donated by the United States, stood for more than an hour under a blistering sun awaiting review by Franks, who helped hoist the Afghan interim government's flag to enthusiastic cheers.

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