PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Sen. Olympia Snowe, returning from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Tuesday that the two countries must work in unison to combat the Taliban resurgence that has triggered growing violence along their border.
“At the end of the day, it’s in their hands,” said Snowe, who spoke with reporters in a conference call from Qatar about her trip with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a fellow member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Snowe, R-Maine, said a growing number of increasingly sophisticated and coordinated attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban militants shows a clear need for Pakistan and Afghanistan to commit themselves to work together against a common enemy.
“Clearly there has to be a change in policy,” Snowe said, pointing to a growing number of casualties among U.S., NATO and Afghan forces over the past year.
As a sign of the increase in violence, gunmen in Pakistan blocked a mountain pass Monday and hijacked a truck convoy carrying military vehicles and other supplies bound for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Snowe said she got a broad spectrum of briefings at large and small bases in Afghanistan, and met with U.S. Embassy officials and Afghan and Pakistani leaders.
One goal, she said, is to expand the U.S.-trained Afghan army from about 76,000 troops to 134,000 within five years.
She said she was encouraged by efforts by Pakistan and Afghanistan to create joint forces along their border. She said a joint border center established at the Khyber Pass is the first of six that the two countries plan to set up to improve communications and logistic capabilities in the rugged region.
“It’s moving in the right direction and we have to do everything we can to encourage that cooperative relationship,” she said.
Although relations between the two neighbors are improving, Snowe said the U.S. faces a challenge in reversing a rapidly deteriorating situation.
“This has been one of the worst years since 2001 in terms of violence and attacks,” she said. “Obviously, something has to change dramatically if we are going to see success in Afghanistan.”