More Nato troops will die fighting in Afghanistan this summer, a top United States military officer said, as a new report emerged implicating Pakistan for actively collaborating with the insurgency while accepting US aid.
The New York Times, citing documents leaked by the group WikiLeaks, said representatives from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence met directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organise militant networks fighting US soldiers.
The agency was also involved in plots to assassinate Afghan leader, the Times said, adding the WikiLeaks report was based on 91 000 documents collected from across the US military in the country.
The White House condemned the leak, saying it could threaten national security and endanger the lives of Americans. Pakistan said leaking of unprocessed reports from the battlefield was irresponsible.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest of the nine-year-old war as thousands of extra US troops, dispatched by President Barack Obama in December, step up their campaign to drive insurgents out of their traditional heartland in the south.
US Admiral Mike Mullen, chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he expected fighting to intensify over the next few months, but Washington’s goal of turning the tide against the insurgency by year’s end was within reach.
“No one is declaring victory but there is progress,” he told reporters in Kabul. “I believe that goal is still achievable and certainly the proof of that will be what happens over these next many months in what is a very challenging period.”
Mullen’s remarks on Sunday came as the Taliban said they were holding captive one of two US servicemen who strayed into insurgent territory, and that the other had been killed.
“We have the body of the dead soldier and the other one who is alive. We have taken them to a safe place,” said Zabihullah Mujahid by telephone from an undisclosed location.
A spokesperson for the Nato-led force declined to comment on the Taliban’s announcement it was holding one of the men, who were both from the US navy.
The navy described both men as still missing.
The two had failed to return on Friday in a vehicle they had taken from their compound in Kabul, the Nato-led force said.
Rumours circulated in local and international media about the fate of the missing men and how they had managed to stray into an insurgent-controlled area in Logar province, a short but dangerous 100km drive south of the capital. One provincial offical said alcohol was found in their vehicle.
Mullen, who called the troops’ disappearance an “unusual circumstance”, said the US military was doing everything possible to find them.
Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have also risen as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the crossfire.
“As we continue our force levels and our operations over the summer … we will likely see further tough casualties and levels of violence,” Mullen told a news conference in Kabul.
The only other foreign soldier believed held by the Taliban is Idaho national guardsman Bowe Bergdahl, whose capture in June last year triggered a massive manhunt. His captors have issued videos of him denouncing the war, in what the US military has called illegal propaganda.
Separately, the Afghan government said on Sunday it was checking reports from villagers that civilians had been killed in a raid by foreign forces in Sangin, in southern Helmand province, on Friday.
The Nato-led force said it was aware of reports of the incident and was investigating, but would not comment further until further details were available. Such incidents have triggered outrage in the past among the population against the international troops whose mission is to protect them. – Reuters