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BAGRAM AIR BASE, Nov 6: US missile strikes in the tribal areas in recent months have killed three of the top 20 extremist leaders there, causing a blow to insurgents threatening Pakistan’s very existence, a top US general said on Thursday.

Gen David H. Petraeus, the new chief of US Central Command, said controversial air strikes launched into Pakistan’s tribal areas in the last three months were a topic of conversation with every Pakistani leader he met this week. Pakistani leaders have criticised the missile strikes as a violation of their sovereignty.

“Certainly there does have to be a better explanation of the blows that have been struck in recent weeks and months,” Petraeus told The Associated Press in an interview. “It is hugely important that three of 20 extremist leaders have been killed in recent months.”

Petraeus did not identify the extremist leaders he said died in the US strikes.

There have been more than 17 reported air strikes since August in the tribal areas.

Speaking at the sprawling Bagram military base north of Kabul, Petraeus described the insurgents on both sides as a “mutual enemy”, who in the case of Pakistan represent “an existential threat, and they recognise it as such”.

“When I was in Islamabad, in Peshawar, I was very impressed by the determination of Pakistani leaders indeed to take steps to deal with what they see as a threat to their very existence posed by the extremists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in some other areas of their country,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus, who became US Central Command chief on Oct 31, has been credited for turning the tide of violence in Iraq, and many expect Afghanistan will see some of the same tactics, such as co-opting local tribal leaders to resist the Taliban.

While acknowledging that the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated in the last year, Petraeus said Afghanistan’s government is looking at new initiatives to engage Afghan tribes in the fight against insurgents, a similar tactic to the one that helped bring down the levels of violence in Sunni areas in Iraq.

“That discussion is bubbling up, if you will, and I think that there are some very thoughtful approaches that are being looked at as options,” Petraeus said without disclosing any details of the initiatives under discussion.—AP

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