Texting's grip on teens raises experts' concerns

BARA, Pakistan — More than 70 U.S. military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle al-Qaida and the Taliban in the country's lawless tribal areas, American military officials said.

The Americans are mostly Army Special Forces soldiers who are training Pakistani army and paramilitary troops, providing them with intelligence and advising on combat tactics, the officials said. They do not conduct combat operations, the officials added.

They make up a secret task force, overseen by the U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command. It started last summer and is a much larger and more ambitious effort than either country has acknowledged.

Pakistani officials have vigorously protested American missile strikes in the tribal areas as a violation of sovereignty and have resisted efforts by Washington to put more troops on Pakistani soil.

Despite the political hazards for Islamabad, the American effort is beginning to pay dividends.

A new Pakistani commando unit within the Frontier Corps paramilitary force has used information from the CIA and other sources to kill or capture as many as 60 militants in the past seven months, including at least five high-ranking commanders, a senior Pakistani military official said.

Four weeks ago, the commandos captured Zabi al-Taifi, a Saudi militant linked to al-Qaida, here in this town in the Khyber Agency, one of the tribal areas that run along the border with Afghanistan.

Yet the main commanders of the Pakistani Taliban, including its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and its leader in the Swat region, Maulana Fazlullah, remain at large. And senior U.S. military officials remain frustrated that they have been unable to persuade the chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to embrace serious counterinsurgency training for the army itself.

Kayani, who is visiting Washington this week as a White House review on policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, will almost certainly be asked how the Pakistani military can do more to eliminate al-Qaida and the Taliban from the tribal areas.

Officials from Pakistan and the United States agreed to disclose some details about the U.S. military advisers and the enhanced intelligence sharing to help dispel impressions that the missile strikes were thwarting broader efforts to combat a common enemy. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the increasingly powerful anti-American segment of the Pakistani population.

Both sides are encouraged by the new collaboration between the American and Pakistani military and intelligence agencies against the militants.

"The intelligence sharing has really improved in the past few months," said Talat Masood, a retired army general and a military analyst. "Both sides realize it's in their common interest."

Texting's grip on teens raises experts' concerns 02/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 22, 2009 11:01pm]

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