By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 29, 2008 - Defense Department planners continue to look for capabilities to send to Afghanistan, a senior Pentagon spokesman said today. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also said that, while DoD officials are encouraged by conversations with Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, "actions speak louder than words."
Efforts to identify additional assets for Afghanistan continue, Morrell said. "Progress is being made toward that end, but I don't have anything definitive to stand here before you today and relay," he said.
He did say that for the time being, U.S. Central Command's strategic reserve –- 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit -– will not deploy to Afghanistan. The 2,200 Marines of the unit now are training in Kuwait.
Military commanders said that as much as troops are needed in Afghanistan, the strategic reserve is an insurance policy in a dangerous part of the world. Morrell wouldn't discuss possible scenarios.
"If we were to commit these resources to Afghanistan now, we would be hamstrung in responding to future threats," he said.
"The situation is not so desperately urgent at this point that it requires us rushing the strategic reserve for Central Command into Afghanistan at this very moment," he said. "It is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed."
Gilani met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon today. Gates also attended the lunch President Bush had with Gilani yesterday.
The Pakistani government has been in office only since March and is working through growing pains, dealing with economic and political woes while trying to deal with extremists in its federally administered tribal areas and the North West Frontier province. U.S., NATO and Afghan officials have asked Pakistan to maintain pressure on Taliban and foreign fighters now using areas in the country as safe havens.
"We are very encouraging of the Pakistani government to do as much as they possibly can to diminish the threat posed by ... terrorists, who are operating rather freely," Morrell said.
Commanders in Afghanistan have criticized Pakistan's policy of negotiating with tribal leaders in the tribal areas. Morrell said the Pakistani approach is not strictly one of negotiation.
"If you look at the situation of the past several weeks ... indeed, months -- there has been an uptick in Pakistani military operations within the border area," Morrell said. "Is it enough? Is it enough to stem the flow of foreign fighters that continue to traverse the border into Afghanistan? Obviously not, and therefore we have called on them to do even more.
"They seem to believe that negotiation with tribal leaders, in the [Federally Administered Tribal areas] and elsewhere, is worthwhile," he continued. "We have said from this podium and elsewhere that that is an option that is worth pursuing, provided that these deals are enforceable and that there is a constant military presence within the FATA going after terrorists, so that no safe havens can develop there."
The words from Pakistani officials have been encouraging, he added, "but the deeds are what ultimately we will measure."
The mere presence of Pakistani troops near the border helps to stem the flow of Taliban and foreign fighters across the border into Afghanistan, Morrell said. "That is helpful," he added, "but obviously we would like for the Pakistanis to be as aggressive as they can be."