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Security up at porous Afghan border

The US, Pakistan coordinate troops to prevent militants from fleeing to either side.

By Anand GopalCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 13, 2009

CUTTING OFF ESCAPE ROUTES: American soldiers patrol the Afghan-Pakistani border in eastern Paktika Province, Afghanistan.

David Furst/AFP/Newscom


Jalalabad, Afghanistan

This week's brazen assault in Kabul underscored a major security gap for Afghanistan: its porous 1,500-mile-long border with Pakistan's tribal areas, where militants can plan attacks and take refuge.

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Wednesday's insurgents sent text messages to contacts in Pakistan before launching an attack on three government offices that left 28 people dead, Afghanistan's intelligence chief told reporters. Previous high-profile attacks in the capital have also been blamed on militants based in Pakistan.

In recent months, however, the US and Pakistani militaries have begun cooperating to try to secure the border by sharing intelligence and coordinating offensives on either side of it.

"We've gone from almost a stalemate situation in the mountains to gaining an advantage we didn't have before," says Col. John Spiszer, the commander of US forces in the northeastern border areas.

For years, Afghan and Western officials have complained that the lack of coordination with Pakistan was undermining the war effort in Afghanistan. The problem became so grave in US eyes that President Obama appointed veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as special representative to both nations. He arrived in Kabul Thursday from Pakistan as part of a regional tour.

Afghan insurgents fighting near the border often cross into Pakistan when under US military pressure; Pakistani militants filter into Afghanistan to join the insurgency there. For years, weapons and insurgents have been able to slip through mountain defiles along the border with little difficulty.

"The US needs Pakistan to help block the border," says Haroun Mir with the Kabul-based Afghan Center for Research and Policy Studies. "The initial signs say that the cooperation is working, but we should wait and see how it goes over the long term."

"Without Pakistan's military cooperation," he adds, "it will be impossible to win this war."

While American and Pakistani military officials began sharing information in 2007, only in the fall of 2008 did the militaries start collaborating on a closer level.

The rise of a common enemy – Taliban-linked insurgents are at war with the Afghan and Pakistani governments – pushed the two militaries to closer cooperation, analysts say. For example, TNSM, an extremist group led by Maulana Fazlullah in control of Pakistan's Swat district, is also very active in the Afghan border provinces, according to US intelligence officers.