updated 1/16/2004 9:53:28 AM ET 2004-01-16T14:53:28

Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of the U.S. Central Command, met Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Friday to discuss the fight against terror and ways to seal the country’s porous border with Afghanistan, officials said.

The general’s visit came on the heels of a major operation Jan. 9 by Pakistani military and commando units searching for Global dragnet and Taliban fugitives in South Waziristan, a semiautonomous tribal area along the border. The area is one of the main suspected hideouts of al-Qaida leader  and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

U.S. and Pakistani officials say no American troops took part in the operation, but U.S. intelligence officials did provide logistical and technical support.

Pakistani authorities say they have arrested 18 foreign terror suspects, but there is no indication any major figures are among those captured. They also have arrested at least 23 local tribesmen on suspicion they gave shelter to the foreigners. Several dozen others are being sought.

‘Porousness of the border’ under discussion
U.S. and Afghan officials have long complained that al-Qaida and Taliban suspects who launch attacks in Afghanistan often retreat through the rugged mountains into Pakistan, where they are protected by tribesmen sympathetic to their cause.

“The general (Abizaid) is here to discuss the Taliban and al-Qaida from the point of view of the porousness of the border,” a senior official with knowledge of the meeting said on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani Army Spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said only that the two sides were discussing “matters of mutual professional interest.”

A military official said Abizaid met Musharraf in the morning but would not discuss the rest of his schedule. It also was not clear whether he would go to neighboring Afghanistan to meet with U.S. troops and Afghan officials.

Abizaid’s Florida-base Central Command has responsibility for American military operations in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, other parts of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa.

Pakistan instrumental in war on terror
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally and has been instrumental in the battle against al-Qaida. The government has rounded up more than 500 al-Qaida suspected and turned them over to the United States.

Musharraf has earned the ire of both al-Qaida and homegrown Islamic militants through his actions. The military ruler survived two assassination attempts in December, both believed to be the work of militant factions.

Musharraf met with his own top generals on Thursday to emphasize his commitment to preventing terrorists from using Pakistani soil as a safe haven. Stopping such attacks is a key part of a peace dialogue agreed to last week with nuclear rival India toward settling their long-standing dispute over the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

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