By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 7, 2008 - Pakistan only recently has realized that terrorists on its border with Afghanistan pose a significant threat, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a news conference here today. Gates is participating in informal NATO defense ministerial meetings. While the ministers did not specifically discuss the situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan is a major item on the agenda, and reporters asked the secretary about the unrest in Pakistan.
"It's only been in the last few months, in my opinion, that Pakistan has come to realize that the situation along the border with Afghanistan ... potentially represents a serious threat to the state of Pakistan itself," Gates said.
The federally administered tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan have provided safe havens for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The Pakistani military has limited control in the region, and the tribal influence spreads across the border to Afghanistan.
"Al Qaeda and some of the other insurgent groups have threatened to kill the leadership of Pakistan, they've threatened to destabilize the government," the secretary said. "They are almost certainly responsible for the assassination of (former Prime Minister) Benazir Bhutto."
The secretary said that in the past the Pakistanis looked at the border unrest as a nuisance. "My hope is that we will see the Pakistanis take a more aggressive stand out there," he said.
The secretary also addressed controversy over comments he made in a Los Angeles Times interview last month and in letters he recently sent to fellow NATO defense ministers.
"First of all, in the interview I gave to the Los Angeles Times, what I was saying was that the alliance as a whole had not exercised or trained for counterinsurgency; I didn't pick out a single country," he said.
Other people quoted in the article named countries, but Gates did not. In his letters to NATO defense ministers, he said, he simply asked his counterparts to look into sending more troops to Afghanistan.
"What I told each of them was we had to dig deep to find these additional troops to send to Afghanistan," he said. "All those letters did was to ask them if they could dig deeper and come up with more troops as well. That's all there is to it. There were no demands. I think the letters were matter-of-fact and polite. I think the whole thing has been overblown."
The secretary said that if more NATO troops can deploy to Afghanistan, "it represents potentially the opportunity to make further progress faster."