U.S., Pakistan Impasse as Admiral Says Drone Strikes to Continue

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Photographer: Rod Lamkey Jr./AFP/Getty Images

A visit by U.S. President Barack Obama’s top military officer to Pakistan underscored disagreements over the use of drone aircraft to target militants in the country’s mountainous northwest.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his country won’t stop the attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. He expressed concern that Pakistani intelligence has a “longstanding relationship” with a militant Afghan group headed by U.S.-designated terrorists.

Pakistan’s military chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, reiterated his nation’s stance that the U.S. missile strikes undermine efforts to defeat guerrillas by draining support for the army’s anti-insurgency efforts. Mullen was in Islamabad to ease diplomatic tensions that soured after a Central Intelligence Agency contractor, Raymond Davis, on Jan. 27 shot and killed two armed Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him.

The Davis case, combined with the drone strikes that have killed civilians, “was a huge setback,” Mullen said in a televised interview yesterday, during which he accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of maintaining ties to militants fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. “I don’t think there is an immediate solution to this. We have to work a way through that.”

Calls by Pakistani politicians to restrict drone attacks intensified after a March 17 strike that Pakistani officials said killed between 26 and 35 people in the district of North Waziristan, which the U.S. says is a haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Four more people were killed in the same region, Geo television said last week, citing people it didn’t identify.

‘Global Terrorists’

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said April 13 that the missile raids were “creating a lot of problems” for the government. “The U.S. will have to stop these attacks. We are trying through our common friends to convince them,” he said in the country’s parliament.

Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to attack the Taliban’s biggest remaining stronghold, North Waziristan. That district is the main base for guerrillas of Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who have attacked U.S. forces operating in at least six Afghan provinces, including the capital, Kabul.

The U.S. has labeled the leaders of the Haqqani group as global terrorists. The U.S. has posted a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is described as the operational commander of the group established by his father, Jalaluddin.

‘Extremely Concerned’

“ISI has a longstanding relationship with Haqqani network,” Mullen said yesterday. “I’m extremely concerned in particular about that aspect.”

Kayani said he “strongly rejected negative propaganda” that Pakistan is not doing enough to defeat insurgents in its northwestern regions. Obama earlier this month sent Congress a semi-annual report that said Pakistan has proven unable to defeat local Taliban and other militant groups.

After almost a decade of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on counter-terrorism, “there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan,” the report said.

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