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The United States has said that it is undertaking a major build-up of forces in eastern Afghanistan -- a stronghold of the Haqqani faction -- for a decisive push against terrorists' safe havens close to the borders of Pakistan.
Disclosing this, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates hinted that the operation could be one 'on both sides of the border.'
His comments came as he voiced concern over leaks by whistleblower website 'WikiLeaks' that Pakistan's military intelligence was maintaining links with Taliban and Al Qaeda.
"We are increasing cooperation with the Pakistanis in terms of working on both sides of the border, in terms of trying to prevent people from crossing that border. We are increasing our forces in eastern Afghanistan that will help us do this," Gates told ABC's programme 'This Week'.
US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces which would swell to almost 150,000 by September this year have so far only concentrated on flushing out Taliban from their southern Afghanistan strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar.
The American forces are yet to launch a major foray into eastern Afghan provinces of Paktia, Khost, Paktikia, Gardez, Logar and Ghazni which are a bastion of warlord Jalauddin Haqqani.
According to US intelligence estimates, the Haqqani network now run by Jalauddin's eldest son Sirajuddin has between 3,000 to 5,000 heavily armed cadres.
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The Haqqani faction, which has close ties with Al Qeada maintains sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan tribal area of Wazirsitan. Despite mounting casualties and growing public doubts in US, the defence secretary said that the July 2011 drawdown of troops would be 'limited.'
Gates said that considerable number of US troops would remain in Afghanistan as he claimed that a major headway in the war against Taliban and Al Qaeda was underway.
The US Secretary said that the Taliban insurgence would not be able to wait out American forces as any major pullout was not on the horizon.
"My personal opinion is that drawdowns early on will be fairly of limited numbers," he said. Asked if Taliban has simply to 'run out the clock until mid 2011,' Gates said he would 'welcome that because we will be there in the 19th month, and we will be there with lot of troops.'
Gates' comments on Sunday echoed remarks by Vice President Joe Biden who has said as few as 2,000 American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2011.
The US defence secretary said that President Barack Obama's strategy and goals were clear, "Its to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny them control of populated areas, degrade their capabilities and at the same time build up Afghan's security forces."
He said American troops were in Afghanistan because 'we were attacked from Afghanistan, not because we want to try and build a better society in the country.'
He described the July 2011 as a beginning of a transition process by thinning of troops, the pace of which will depend on conditions on the ground.
On moves to strike a deal with Taliban, Gates said to improve the situation in war-torn country was to degrade the capabilities of Taliban to a degree they are willing to consider reconciliation on the terms of Afghan government.
He said the patch up terms would include 'putting down their weapons and abide by the Afghan constitution.'
"These are the conditions that reconciliation must take place and that must be the end game," the US secretary said.