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WASHINGTON — Special operations forces from the U.S.-led contingent in Afghanistan are now training Pakistani units on helicopter-borne assault tactics, according to top operations officer in the region.

Col. Cardon B. Crawford, the director of operations for Combined Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, which oversees military activities there and in neighboring Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, said the training was designed to help Pakistani forces become more proficient in “air assault operations.”

Crawford, speaking with reporters in Washington, did not offer specifics, but did confirm the training was taking place in Pakistan.

Crawford said the training mission comes as leaders have been working to ease cross-border tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s government routinely points to Pakistan, which financed the Taliban’s rise in the country, as the source of much of the country’s lingering insurgency and other woes.

“There are some problems along the border,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Eric Olsen, the senior tactical commander in Afghanistan, was recently dispatched to Pakistan in the wake of a border skirmish between Pakistani and coalition forces, he said.

“As a result of that last little dustup, Maj. Gen. Olson went to Islamabad to talk to Pakistani general officers to make sure that it was clear that it was certainly a misunderstanding,” Crawford said.

Crawford said Pakistani units have now been given tactical radios to help improve communications between forces on both sides of the border.

That simple fix has led to very practical benefits.

“The Pakistanis have adjusted our artillery fire into the Pakistani side” of the border, said Crawford. “That’s a huge step forward.”

Meanwhile, Crawford said, U.S. forces are preparing for the next major rotation of troops in the region. The Italy-based Southern European Task Force will replace the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division beginning in March.

“Certainly one of the most important missions they’ll support while they’re there is the National Assembly elections,” said Crawford.

Slated for this spring, those elections have been repeatedly pushed back and Crawford said it’s now likely the polls won’t happen until summer as local officials wrestle with delineating district boundaries, among other things.

“What we’re going to have to see, and this hasn’t been determined yet, is whether the National Assembly elections are going to be held in one day — and this certainly has security implications — or is it going to be rolling-type elections where you might do a few provinces” at a time.

Crawford said while overall U.S. force levels would likely remain at more than 16,000 into the year, he said troop presence could spike in the build up to the elections.

“That’s the only time you might see levels increase,” Crawford said.


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