Joint chiefs head makes surprise visit to Pakistan
The top U.S. military official flew unexpectedly into Pakistan on Tuesday night for meetings with senior officials there amid an escalating confrontation over recent U.S. military incursions into Pakistan in pursuit of al-Qaida and Islamic extremists.
The Washington Post
KABUL, Afghanistan — The top U.S. military official flew unexpectedly into Pakistan on Tuesday night for meetings with senior officials there amid an escalating confrontation over recent U.S. military incursions into Pakistan in pursuit of al-Qaida and Islamic extremists.
The unannounced visit by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came just hours after Pakistan's army spokesman was quoted as saying that orders had been given to "open fire" if U.S. forces attempt another cross-border raid similar to a Sept. 3 commando operation in which local officials said at least 20 people were killed.
A Pentagon spokesman said the purpose of Mullen's visit was to continue dialogue between U.S. and Pakistani officials and to "look for ways to work better and more closely together to eliminate the safe haven for extremists in the border region" between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But reported comments by Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, which followed earlier expressions of outrage by senior Pakistani officials over a series of U.S. cross-border bombing raids this month, showed that the raids have deeply embarrassed and angered Pakistan's military establishment, as well as aroused widespread public outcry.
"The orders are clear," Abbas told The Associated Press. "In case it happens again in this form, that there is very significant detection, where it is very definite, no ambiguity across the board, on the ground or in the air: open fire."
The Sept. 3 raid, which followed a series of airstrikes by unmanned Predator planes, was the first known incursion inside Pakistan by U.S. ground forces. The commandos were helicoptered into the South Waziristan tribal region and attacked a compound believed to harbor several key Islamic extremist figures. The attacks stirred widespread domestic anger and led to official protests.
Earlier this week, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, publicly protested the latest U.S. action, saying that Pakistan's sovereignty would be "defended at all cost," and asking his American counterparts to "please look at the public reaction to this kind of adventure and incursion."
Privately, Pakistani analysts said they did not expect Pakistani troops to actually shoot at U.S. forces, with whom they have been closely if uneasily allied since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Moreover, Pakistan's military has received between $6 billion and $10 billion in U.S. aid during that time.
Pakistani officials said Tuesday night that they expected the issue would be smoothed over and that Abbas had been misquoted. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman also said late Tuesday that Pakistan would "correct the record" and that the U.S. enjoyed "good cooperation with Pakistan on the border."
A Pentagon official said Tuesday that Pakistani pilots will train with U.S. pilots in the use of F-16 fighters for nighttime attacks against terrorist ground targets.
The training, to start in February, will let the Pakistani military fly day and night missions against Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents in the northwest border area with Afghanistan that U.S. military and intelligence officials say is providing an increased safe haven for attacks against U.S. forces.
But U.S. lawmakers Tuesday promised close scrutiny of a Bush administration request to use hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-terrorism aid to upgrade Pakistan's aging fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia, suggested the planes were more important as a symbol in Pakistan's competition with India than in helping fight extremists using parts of Pakistan as a safe haven to attack U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Let's be grown-up about this. Do you think the average Pakistani thinks the symbolism has something to do with fighting terrorism or confronting India?" Ackerman asked at a hearing.
Additional information from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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