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Pakistan Upping Border Force Along Helmand Stretch

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Pakistan's army has deployed more troops to a stretch of the Afghan border to stop Taliban militants fleeing a major U.S. offensive in southern Afghanistan, a spokesman said Thursday.

Nearly 4,000 U.S. Marines plus 650 Afghan forces moved into Afghanistan's Helmand province early Thursday to take on the Taliban in one of their strongholds.

Pakistani and U.S. officials have expressed concern the American troop buildup in southern Afghanistan could push the militants across the poorly guarded and mountainous border into Pakistan.

"We've mustered more troops from the other areas of the border" to deploy opposite the Helmand region, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press. "We expected that the effect of this operation would be that the pressure would come on the border. We are rearranging where the pressure is less on the border of crossing. It is sort of a reorganization and redeployment of the forces."

Abbas declined to give specifics, such as how many troops were being sent to bolster those already along that stretch of the border or exactly how much of the move was coordinated with the United States.

But he added: "It started months ago. (The U.S.) had indicated that they will be coming to Helmand and the eastern part of Afghanistan. The threat was visualized. The possibility of crossing was visualized. We have addressed it by beefing up the border posts."

Pakistan shares a 1,600-mile (2,600-kilometer) border with Afghanistan. The section opposite Helmand is around 160 miles (260 kilometers) long and lies in Baluchistan province, where U.S. officials believe the Afghan Taliban's top leadership are hiding out.

Last year, NATO and Pakistani forces cooperated in a series of complementary operations on the border between Afghanistan's Kunar province and the Bajur region in Pakistan. The operation was praised by NATO commanders, who likened it to a hammer and anvil squeezing the militants.

It was unclear, however, if the latest troop movement in Pakistani was part of a larger operation involving both sides. The stretch affected lies far from the main insurgent battlegrounds in Pakistan: the tribal areas farther north.

The overall commitment of Islamabad to Washington's aims in Afghanistan has been questioned. Pakistan has frequently been accused in the past of failing to stop - and sometimes aiding - the movement of insurgents into Afghanistan from its side of the border.

Abbas said Pakistan has 1,100 posts along the whole border, with some 60,000 paramilitary and military troops deployed there.

Abbas criticized efforts to secure the border on the Afghan side, saying "the strength of their side is very thin on the border."

He said Afghanistan has not accepted Pakistani offers to fence long stretches of the border or put land mines along certain crossings to control the traffic, he said.

"What do you expect from us to do? We have more troops on the border, we have more posts on the border. It should be matched at least on the other side. They don't even have 10 percent of what we have," said Abbas, who extended his criticism to include other NATO forces operating in Afghanistan.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

This program aired on July 2, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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