| GEO World|
Kayani assures NWA op, asserts Mullen
| Updated at: 0933 PST, Thursday, October 14, 2010|
WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s army has pledged to go after militants the U.S. wants targeted in an area harboring al-Qaeda that has become “the epicenter of terrorism,” President Barack Obama’s top military adviser said.
Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has given assurances he will mount an offensive the U.S. has long called for in North Waziristan along the Afghan border.
“He’s committed to me to go into North Waziristan and to root out these terrorists as well,” Mullen, 64, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff” to be broadcast this weekend. “He clearly knows what our priorities are.”
He said the goal was to defeat al-Qaeda and ensure Afghanistan wouldn’t again become a haven for the group as it had been before the U.S. ousted the Taliban from power after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“That’s how I approached my best military advice to the president,” Mullen said.
North Waziristan “is the epicenter of terrorism,” Mullen said. “It’s where al-Qaeda lives.”
Kayani, who has been an ally of Mullen, has shifted more than 70,000 troops from the country’s border with India, its traditional rival, to the northwest, mobilizing a total of 140,000 forces, Mullen said.
“They’ve sacrificed, they’ve lost a lot of citizens and they are really concerned, urgently concerned, about the threat to their own country from terrorists,” Mullen said. “Two years ago, that wasn’t the case.”
Still, Mullen didn’t give a time frame for a possible offensive in North Waziristan. He said Kayani has primarily targeted groups that pose an internal threat, not those the U.S. considers most dangerous.
Mullen, who took office in October 2007, said he has probably been to Pakistan 20 times, seeking to rebuild ties that frayed in the 1990s.
The U.S. relationship with Pakistan “comes from what I call a very dark hole where we left them,” Mullen said. “So to assert certainties right now I think is a real challenge.”
Pakistan’s military also is hampered by its government’s failure to establish firm civilian control in areas where the army has routed the Taliban, Mullen said. He cited the forested Swat Valley about 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the capital Islamabad, where the Pakistani Army swept out guerrillas in a 10-week military campaign beginning in May 2009.
“He’s got no government to build behind” the offensives, Mullen said. “So he’s got his forces literally pinned down in Swat until the government can actually come in, provide the security, the police.”
While military action by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan has degraded al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden “is still running” the group, Mullen said.
“He’s struggled doing that to some degree over the last couple of years,” Mullen said. Still, the threat to the U.S. is “every bit as intense as it has been. And it’s still a threat that needs to be eliminated.”
The war in Afghanistan is showing signs of progress in reversing Taliban gains and strengthening legitimate authorities, Mullen said. The U.S. is “very committed” to beginning a troop withdrawal that Obama called for when he authorized 30,000 additional U.S. forces last December, Mullen said.