<em>A Canadian soldier of the NATO-led coalition looks at an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploding in the Taliban stronghold of Zhari district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan March 19, 2009</em>

A Canadian soldier of the NATO-led coalition looks at an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploding in the Taliban stronghold of Zhari district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Taliban’s military campaign in southern Afghanistan is aided partly by support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper, citing U.S. government officials, said the support for the Taliban and other militant groups was coordinated by operatives in the S Wing of Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. The support involves money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance, said the officials, who requested anonymity.

The Times said there was even evidence ISI operatives were meeting regularly with Taliban commanders for discussions on whether the militant group should intensify or reduce violence before Afghanistan’s scheduled August elections.

U.S. officials told the Times that proof of the ties came from electronic surveillance and trusted informants. Pakistani officials told the paper they had firsthand knowledge of the ties, which they denied were strengthening the insurgency.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, and the United Nations warned earlier this month it was likely to worsen this year.

President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. They will join 38,000 American troops and 30,000 more from NATO allies and other nations. A U.S. official said on Tuesday that Obama was expected on Friday to announce the results of his administration’s review of Afghanistan policy.

Pakistani leaders deny any government ties to militant groups and the Times quoted U.S. officials as saying it was unlikely top government officials were coordinating the efforts. The middle-ranking intelligence operatives sometimes cultivate relationships without the approval of senior officials, the paper said.

Pakistani officials told the Times the contacts were less threatening than portrayed by U.S. officials and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan in preparation for a time when U.S. forces withdraw and leave a power vacuum that Pakistan fears could be filled by nuclear archrival India.



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