U.S. Commander: It’s ‘Naïve’ to Think U.S. Can Secure Afghan-Pakistan Border Like We Would U.S.-Mexico Border

By Penny Starr and Edwin Mora | January 4, 2011 | 10:34 AM EST

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano discussed border security on her New Year's visit to Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy in Kabul)

(CNSNews.com) – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano began the New Year in Afghanistan, discussing what her department is doing to help secure that country's border with Pakistan only days after a U.S. commander in the region told reporters it was "naive" to think the U.S. could secure the Afghan-Pakistan border like it would the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Part of national sovereignty is the ability to protect one’s borders,” Napolitano said at a Jan. 1 news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. American civilians from Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she said, are helping Afghanis with that job (see related story).

Yet, just before Napolitano arrived in the commander of a U.S. Army Brigade responsible for a section of the Afghan-Pakistan border region deprecated the idea the the U.S. military could stop insurgent forces from crossing that frontier.

“As far as the border itself, you know, I think it’s naive to say that we can stop, you know, forces coming through the border,” Col. Viet Luong said via a Dec. 28 teleconference press briefing from Afghanistan. Luong and his troops are in charge of 162 miles of the estimated 1,500 mile-long Afghan-Pakistan border.

“I’ve chosen very early on in this fight to merely disrupt… to do targeted operations against catching these guys coming across,” Luong said. He noted that the insurgents have “many places” where they can cross the border.

Because the Afghan-Pakistan border is so porous, Luong said he’s focused on “safe areas” closer to the country’s interior where the insurgents train, bed down, and store their weapons caches. “And predominantly, our success has been there,” he said.

When asked by a reporter if he had given up on border security between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Luong replied, “No, I did not say that we have chosen to give up on the border.” He said the U.S. military works with Afghani security personnel to police a number of crossing points along the Afghan/Pakistan border. 

“But to secure the border in the traditional sense, if you’re talking about, you know, like what we would do along our own border with Mexico down in the southwestern United States, that’s not what we’re doing,” Luong said. He said it takes an “inordinate amount of resources and force to be able to do that.”

As CNSNews.com previously reported, as of Sept. 30 (the end of fiscal 2010), the U.S. Border Patrol, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, had established “effective control” over 1,107 miles of the 8,607 miles it is responsible for securing, a CPB spokesperson told CNSNews.com.

A border mile is under “effective control” when the U.S. government can be reasonably expected to intercept an illegal crosser at that point.

See related story:
Obama Administration Expands Role of Homeland Security Department to Secure Borders of Afghanistan (4 Jan. 2011)