dick cheney .
(photo credit: AP)
US Vice President Dick Cheney landed at the largest US military base in Afghanistan Monday afternoon for consultations with American military leaders ahead of a meeting with President Hamid Karzai.
Cheney landed at the base at Bagram, an hour north of Kabul, shortly after a meeting in neighboring Pakistan where he told Gen. Pervez Musharraf that al-Qaida is regrouping in Pakistan's remote border area and that Pakistan needs to do more to confront the problem.
The unannounced stops in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, and Afghan and US officials refused to comment until after the vice president left the country. He was expected to be in Afghanistan only for a few hours.
The United States now has some 27,000 troops in the country - the highest number ever. About 14,000 of those troops are part of the 35,000-strong NATO force, which a US general - Gen. Dan McNeill - took command of earlier this month.
Cheney and Karzai were likely to talk about security along the Afghan-Pakistan border and an expected increase in violence by Taliban militants as spring thaws mountain snows.
Afghan and US officials say that militants gather and train in Pakistan, then cross the porous border to launch attacks in Afghanistan, though Musharraf told Cheney that Pakistan "has done the maximum in the fight against terrorism" and that "joint efforts were needed for achieving the desired objectives," his office said.
In Pakistan, Cheney "expressed US apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaida in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat," Musharraf's office said in a statement.
Cheney was accompanied by CIA deputy director Steve Kappes to Pakistan. It wasn't clear if Kappes also went to Afghanistan.
US and British officials have lavished praise on Pakistan for its role in arresting al-Qaida suspects and trying to bust the hideouts of militants who fled to Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
But they are pressing Musharraf to do more to disrupt Pakistan-based Taliban fighters, who are expected to step up raids into Afghanistan in the coming months, and to trap Taliban and al-Qaida leaders suspected of hiding in the border region.
Musharraf defended a September peace deal in the North Waziristan tribal region. Critics say the deal effectively ceded the area to militants and some US military officials say it was followed by a rise in attacks in Afghanistan.
The agreement, under which tribal leaders are supposed to curb militant activities, "is the way forward," Musharraf said, arguing that tribesmen are best turned against the militants with economic aid and political measures.