KABUL, Afghanistan – Insurgent violence in Afghanistan could reach record levels this year as militants increasingly target police and development projects, a top U.S. general said Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, who commands U.S. forces in the country, said a large number of insurgents are still pouring into Afghanistan from Pakistan.
Schloesser said violence this year "may well reach a higher level than it did in 2007."
Last year was the bloodiest since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001. The U.N. says over 8,000 people died in insurgency-related violence, mostly militants.
"What I have seen so far is the level of violence is more directed toward ... innocent Afghan people or ... not military forces, but forces such as police, and other security forces that are out trying to protect development projects," Schloesser told reporters in Kabul.
"I think they are afraid to attack ... coalition forces and so they are going for what is an easier target," said Schloesser, who heads the 101st Airborne Division. He took up his command in Afghanistan on April 10.
Militants regularly target the police force, which is seen as weaker than the better-trained and equipped national army. At least 72 police officers were killed in insurgent ambushes and bombings in April alone.
More than 900 policemen were among the 8,000 people killed last year. The high death toll comes despite some $4 billion spent by the U.S. to train and equip the police in the last three years.
Schloesser also said a large number of Taliban and other militants, including foreign fighters, are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan to fight against U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops.
"I do believe that those forces that we are fighting, that are the enemy of the Afghan people, are also a threat to Pakistani people," he said.
U.S. military and intelligence officials have warned that Pakistan's tribal areas are becoming a breeding ground for Taliban, al-Qaida and other militant groups. They have urged Pakistan's authorities to do more to stem the influx of fighters and have also sought permission to strike at insurgent strongholds in the lawless and mountainous region.
Schloesser said that region of Pakistan is an "area that I am concerned about," but any coalition action there would be conducted in cooperation with Pakistan authorities.
Pakistan is an ally in the U.S.-led war on terror and has deployed over 100,000 troops in its border areas but has struggled to contain rising militancy. Its new civilian government is hoping to quell violence on its own soil through dialogue and development efforts.