Apparently, an understanding for the offensive was reached during the recent visit to Pakistan by Secretary Clinton and Admiral Mullen. – File Photo

WASHINGTON: The US military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, said on Monday that the Pakistani government  would launch a major offensive on militants in North Waziristan.

“It’s a very important fight and a very important operation,” the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff told a television network.

In several interviews to US television channels, Admiral Mullen said part of his job as chairman had been to try and “close the trust gap” between the United States and Pakistan, which had built up over many years.

Mr Mullen said he visited Pakistan last week with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “show the strength in terms of our commitment” because “we’re going through a difficult patch right now after the (Osama) bin Laden operation”.

The United States has long demanded the operation to eliminate the Haqqani network, which Washington claims is protected by Pakistanis.

Apparently, an understanding for the offensive was reached during the recent visit to Pakistan by Secretary Clinton and Admiral Mullen.

According to the plan, Pakistani aircraft will “soften up” militant targets before ground troops move in to wind up the operation. Pakistan had already prepared a blueprint for the offensive, which was finalised during the Clinton-Mullen visit.

Pakistani diplomatic sources in Washington confirmed that “both sides have agreed in principle to carry out the offensive”, but like their counterparts in Islamabad, they refused to say when they expect the operation to begin. Pakistan maintains about 140,000 troops in the tribal region but military experts in Washington say it will have to bring in more troops for the operation to succeed.

“We were very frank with them and they were very frank with us,” said Admiral Mullen while describing his meetings with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad last week.

“On the army side right now there is a very significant introspective look and review that is ongoing. And I think they are going to have to get through that. And that makes sense to me,” he said.

“I did hear from the military leadership their continued commitment to look ahead and work with us and we think that’s important.”

Admiral Mullen said the reports of his allegedly tense conversations with Pakistani leaders were ‘overstated’.

“We had a very good, frank, open discussion that touched on a wide range of issues. We thought it was important to have the meeting face to face to reaffirm the commitment to the relationship,” he said.

“The Bin Laden raid, specifically is something that I know the Pakistani military, the Pakistani intelligence agencies are focusing on.”

Admiral Mullen noted that Pakistan was located in a very critical part of the world. “We have common interests, and it’s important that both sides continue to commit to eradicating those terrorists.”

The US military chief pointed out that in the US “one of the things that does not get enough focus is the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has made over the course of the last several years”.

They have lost thousands of soldiers in this fight while “10-plus thousand” were wounded.

“They have a significant internal threat and I think it’s vital that we continue to try to figure out a way ahead, even through these most difficult of times,” the admiral said.

The US military chief said the “most important part” of his and Secretary Clinton’s meetings in Islamabad was the categorical statement that they issued, which made it clear that “we’ve seen no evidence of the senior leadership had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence there”.

Bin Laden, he said, had to have “some kind of network ... to be able to sustain an existence” but senior Pakistani leaders were not aware of this network.

“And the Pakistanis hear America’s displeasure over that loud and clear I assume,” he was asked. “Yes, they do certainly,” the admiral replied.

Reuters adds: Humanitarian agencies active in Pakistan’s northwest have been quietly told to prepare for up to 365,000 displaced people in advance of the military offensive in North Waziristan, a senior official with an international humanitarian agency said on Monday .

The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, was responding to reports that Pakistan would launch a military offensive against terrorists’ safe havens in the Afghan border regions.

“Humanitarian agencies operating in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were given the heads up two weeks ago by the authorities of a possible displacement of up to 50,000 families,” he said.