U.S. Plans Joint Military Operation Along Afghan Border

The U.S. military said Monday it will hold its first joint maneuvers with both Afghanistan and Pakistan along the mountainous border between the two Central Asian countries where Usama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda figures are believed to be hiding.

The operation, to be called Inspired Gambit, will be an "air assault exercise" involving a small contingent of Afghan soldiers and an unspecified number of Pakistani troops, U.S. military spokesman Col. Laurent Fox said during a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"We feel that it is important that the only way we will solve the terrorism and insurgency problem is to work closely together with each other," Fox said.

The exercise, which Fox said would be the first of its kind, is expected to take place during May and follows Afghan and Pakistani officials accusing each other of not doing enough to prevent militants crossing back and forth between the two countries.

A senior Pakistan army official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media that Pakistan and the United States routinely hold joint military exercises, but it was the first time Afghanistan has been asked to join the maneuvers.

A Pakistani military official said, however, the exercises would not be held along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as Fox said, but in a Pakistan military exercise area that he would not specify because of security reasons. The official, who requested anonymity in line with policy, said the exercise would take place in the first week of May.

Last year, a joint U.S.-Pakistan air assault exercise was held at a Pakistani military facility at Cherat, in North West Frontier Province, about 60 miles from the Afghan border.

Pakistan is a key ally in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, but it has come under frequent criticism, particularly from Kabul, for not doing enough to prevent Taliban and other rebels from crossing the poorly marked border. Pakistan says it has deployed more than 80,000 troops along the nearly 1,500-mile-long frontier to evict militants and prevent insurgents from entering Pakistan or crossing into Afghanistan.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan believe senior Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, including Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, may be hiding in the tribal-dominated region.

The porous, mountainous region has seen a spike in insurgent attacks against Pakistani troops on its side of the border, as well as Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.