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US general discusses joint operations

June 07, 2011

United States Central Command (Centcom) chief Gen James Mattis. – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: United States Central Command (Centcom) chief Gen James Mattis discussed on Monday with Pakistani military leaders plans for an initial drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan and details of joint operations against high-value targets.

Gen Mattis's only announced engagement was with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne, who had last month cancelled a trip to Washington to protest against the May 2 US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden.

However, his more important engagement with Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was kept under wraps.

Gen Kayani and Gen Mattis, defence sources said, had met on Sunday night and discussed operational details about the fight against militancy, including the minutiae of the 'renewed cooperation' agreement negotiated during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen's visit to Islamabad late last month. The agreement envisaged joint operations against high-value targets that could be hiding in Pakistan and an operation against sanctuaries in North Waziristan.

But ISPR officials tried to give an impression to journalists that Gen Kayani did not meet the American commander because of his engagements in Quetta.

Lately there has been a concerted effort by the Army to keep their chief's interactions with American commanders away from media's watchful eyes.

Gen Kayani, according to a military source, is very concerned about him being seen as too pro-American.

During his town hall-style meetings last month after the embarrassing US raid, Gen Kayani was quoted by a military source as having said that his frequent interactions with the Americans did not mean that he was 'friendly' with them.

Gen Mattis's visit comes weeks before the scheduled start of US troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Obama administration is likely to announce the pace of the withdrawal later this month. At present the Pentagon is debating the nuts and bolts of a drawdown, but is taking pains to ensure secrecy.

Military sources say Americans are considering withdrawing troops in larger numbers than previously thought because of growing anti-war sentiments back home, recent gains against the Taliban and, more importantly, Osama's killing.

No numbers were, however, shared with Pakistanis during the meetings. The discussions, a source said, focused on broader details.

The US has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and the number going back could be between 5,000 and 10,000.

Practically no information was shared about Gen Wynne's meeting with the Centcom commander. A brief statement issued by the ISPR only said the two generals met and “discussed regional security situation and other matters pertaining to professional interest”.