WASHINGTON, Feb 17: Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen, while talking about his recent visit to Pakistan, has stressed that the military is only part of the solution in the war on terror.

“Part of the long, enduring conflict that we are in is going to be tied to winning the ideological war,” he said. “I’m a big believer in engagement, (a) big believer in relationships.”

Admiral Mullen, who visited Pakistan last week, was speaking on the short and long-term challenges facing the US military at a meeting of military analysts at the Pentagon on Saturday.

The admiral said he had a good visit to Pakistan and the meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, was particularly useful.

“What is clear to me is the sacrifices that the Pakistani army has made in fighting this war, and I very much appreciate their sacrifices and the relationship we have and we need to continue to nurture,” Admiral Mullen said.

He said the Pakistanis now understand the danger religious extremists pose to their country and are working to establish a counter-insurgency effort in the federally-administered tribal areas.

Admiral Mullen, who also visited Afghanistan during his South Asian tour, characterised the progress in the war against terror in that country as ‘mixed.’

“The insurgency is growing,” he said, noting that the US President Bush’s decision to send 3,200 Marines to the country beginning in March is an indication of Washington’s concern about Afghanistan.

He said the Nato countries need to meet their commitments in Afghanistan.

The United States wants its Nato allies to send more troops to Afghanistan and also has urged those who already have troops there to allow them to participate in battles against the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.

Despite US efforts, some Nato countries are still reluctant to increase their participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan.

Looking to the future, the top US military official said, he worries about what happens after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan finish, noting that the ends of other wars led to drastic military downsizing, making it difficult to meet the next challenge that inevitably has arisen.

“What I worry about is any kind of peace dividend after Iraq and Afghanistan -- whenever that might be,” he said. “We’ve done that several times; it has always proven faulty. We’ve dug ourselves into a hole, and we’ve had to dig ourselves out.”

Mr Mullen stressed the need to develop a comprehensive military strategy for the greater Middle East area, which also includes Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said the strategic look at the region is broader than just Iraq and Afghanistan; it includes Sunni-Shia problems, Palestinian-Israeli relations, and the problems presented by Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

“In Iraq, security is clearly better,” the admiral said. “I don’t just read about it -- I’ve been there a couple times.”

But even in Iraq, he conceded, in the long run security alone isn’t going to provide the sort of winning combination needed.

“It’s got to be more than that,” he said. “The surge continues to provide a window of opportunity there for the other areas that must be developed -- economically and well as politically.”

He said he is encouraged by the Iraqi parliament passing a bundle of laws concerning a fiscal 2008 budget, provincial elections and amnesty. “All that said, we’ve still got a long way to go (in Iraq),” he said. “It’s fragile.”The US military official emphasised that the United States is taking greater risks in other parts of the world to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Part of my responsibility is to look around the world and see what we will be doing in the future,” he said. He said the military needs to make sure it continues working on developing new capabilities, not just on being well-versed in current capacities.

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