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Pakistan, US agree on Waziristan operation

May 31, 2010

Admiral Mike Mullen said that Gen Kayani had promised to launch an operation in North Waziristan and he trusted him because the Pakistani general had always done what he said he would do. -File Photo
WASHINGTON The US military chief said on Sunday that he could not discuss his plans for combating Fata-based militants with the media but would like to do so with Pakistan's cooperation.

Diplomatic sources in Washington, while talking to Dawn, also confirmed this, saying that Pakistan had agreed in principle to extend its military operation to North Waziristan and other areas identified by the Americans as militant hideouts.

“I wouldn't speak to any kind of details in terms of either plans or operations,” said US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen when asked if the Pentagon had planned a unilateral military strike in Pakistan.

The Fox News, which interviewed the US military chief, also asked if the talks of a unilateral strike aimed at putting the Pakistan government and the terror groups on notice that “we'll take this into our own hands if need be?”

“My focus, more than anything else, is in support of” the Pakistani military's efforts to combat the militants, said the admiral.

But “clearly ... we're very concerned about that part of the world. We're very concerned about — that's where Al Qaeda leadership lives. We know that”.

The United States, he said, was working with both Pakistan and Afghanistan to continue to put pressure on the terrorist leadership but he refused to disclose details of such measures.

In a visit to Islamabad earlier this month, US National Security Adviser James Jones and CIA Director Leon Panetta told Pakistani leaders that militants hiding in these areas planned attacks against the United States and its allies.

The two senior US officials met President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during this visit and told them that these militants were also behind a May 1 attempt to bomb New York's Times Square.

“The meetings led to an understanding between the two sides that Islamabad will extend its military operations to North Waziristan and other similar areas as well,” a diplomatic source told Dawn.

“They are now discussing when will be the right time to do so. When, not if,” the source added.

Recent terrorist activities, particularly Friday's attacks on the Qadianis in Lahore, apparently cemented the government's desire to take on the militants.

In his interview to Fox News, Admiral Mullen said that he had “spent an extraordinary amount of time in Pakistan” in dealing with Gen Kayani, and had been impressed with how much Pakistan was doing to combat the militants.

He had said earlier that Gen Kayani had promised to launch an operation in North Waziristan and he trusted him because the Pakistani general had always done what he said he would do.

“They've lost a significant number of troops. They've regained a significant amount of their territory. They're very focused on that,” the admiral said.

“They're struggling in building behind the security that they've created in — particularly in the western area. They've moved some 70,000 troops to the west. So we're working hard to strengthen that relationship. We're working hard to support them in training. And we'll continue to do that.”

Diplomatic sources in Washington also confirmed what the admiral indicated, saying that the Pakistanis would decide “when to launch the operation, what means to use, where to use the airpower and where to send in the troops”.

The sources said the expected operation had further increased the need for greater cooperation among the three major stakeholders in the current power set-up in Pakistan the political government, the military and the judiciary.

“All three understand the need to cooperate with each other in the greater interest of the country,” said one such source. The decision to take on the militants also followed increased pressure from Washington.

On Saturday, the US media reported that the Obama administration had prepared plans to launch a unilateral military strike inside Pakistan, should another successful terrorist attack in the US is traced to that country.

The US media also reported this week that the Obama administration had ordered a major escalation of clandestine military operations in the greater Middle East region that includes Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to these reports, the White House authorised a massive expansion of clandestine military and intelligence operations in this region, sanctioning activities in more than a dozen countries and giving the military's combatant commanders significant new authority to conduct unconventional warfare.