US General Predicts Taliban 'assassination Teams'

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Afghanistan war can be won without Pakistan's army moving against militants in North Waziristan, the No. 2 American general for the war effort said Tuesday, publicly signaling that the U.S. is resigned to the idea that Islamabad won't take on that terrorist safe haven.

Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez' stopped short of calling for more U.S. strikes in the border region, which has been under assault from a well-known but unacknowledged U.S. bombing campaign carried out largely by CIA drones. But he agreed that there would have to be "some plan . "to decrease the impact of the safe haven," including greater efforts by the U.S. and Afghans on the Afghanistan side of the border.

The U.S. has repeatedly pressed Pakistan to mount an offensive in North Waziristan, a region that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the "epicenter of terrorism" where militants gather to plan attacks that they then carry out across the border in Afghanistan.

Last month, Mullen flatly told reporters that the U.S. cannot succeed in Afghanistan unless the safe havens in Pakistan are shut down.

Osama bin Laden and his key leaders are believed to be hiding in that region.

"We need them to do more, we're going to encourage them to do more," Rodriguez said of Pakistan. "But I think it's still doable without them decreasing what they've being doing the past year, which is significant." He said if Pakistan goes "into every place but North Waziristan, that would be significant and really helpful to us."

Pakistan's leaders have repeatedly insisted that their military is stretched thin by its operations against militants in other border regions as well as ongoing flood relief efforts and a long-standing presence along the border with India.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Rodriguez said U.S., Afghan and Pakistan forces must continue to coordinate attacks against militants along the border, as broader efforts continue to secure key provinces around the country, and turn security over to the Afghanistan security forces.

He predicted that Taliban forces this spring will attempt to reassert themselves by focusing more on assassinating Afghan political leaders in order to undermine support for the government.

He said he believes that after a winter lull, the Taliban will bring on a new strategy in the spring that will is likely to include what he called assassination hit teams. Similar efforts in the past, he said, focused on Afghans or lower rank-and-file militants who are now working with the Americans.

"There's a hierarchy of the most committed to the least committed," said Rodriguez." And they have been going after the people who were part of their efforts before, but who are on the lower scale, who are trying to turn over and support their government. "

And they have been going after the people who were part of their efforts before, but who are on the lower scale, who are trying to turn over and support their government.

President Barack Obama last year ordered a buildup of U.S. troops with the promise that they would start leaving the country in July.

Defense officials have been careful not to say how many forces can be pulled out, or provide any timeline, saying it will be based on the conditions in Afghanistan.

Rodriguez mapped out some of the progress the U.S. and its Afghan partners have made securing portions of the critical southern region in recent months - bolstered by the surge of about 30,000 more American forces. And he said as Afghan forces get stronger in some areas, U.S. troops there could be shifted to other parts of the country or into training jobs that military leaders are trying desperately to fill.

Asked what U.S. troops are likely to come out of Afghanistan first this July, he said it's likely that troops who serve in jobs such as intelligence, logistics, medical evacuation and higher level command and control units would remain in country longer that some combat troops because it is more difficult for the Afghans to duplicate those tasks.

And meanwhile, he said, the threat will remain.