View Full Version : Top Pentagon Official In Surprise Visit To Pakistan

09-17-2008, 08:32 AM
Top Pentagon Official in Surprise Visit to Pakistan


Published: September 16, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, America’s top military official, made a hastily arranged visit to Pakistan on Tuesday for talks about a recent incursion by American commandos based in neighboring Afghanistan.

The visit by the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, came as an uproar continued to grow in Pakistan about the incursion on Sept. 3, which severely strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, its top Muslim ally in the war against terrorism. The visit also coincided with conflicting accounts about a possible second American raid on Monday, as well as a warning by the Pakistan military that it would shoot at any foreign forces who crossed the border.

A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said the army reserved the right to use force to defend the country and its people, but he said there was “no change in policy.”

Asked what the Pakistan military would do if there was a future incursion by American troops, he said: “There is a big if involved. We will see to it when such a situation arises.”

The Sept. 3 raid was the first publicly acknowledged operation by American ground forces in Pakistan in the campaign against Taliban and Al Qaeda targets. Previously, allied forces in Afghanistan had occasionally carried out airstrikes and artillery attacks in the border region of Pakistan, and American forces had some latitude to cross the border in “hot pursuit” of militants.

Admiral Mullen flew to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, from Baghdad, where he had attended the change-of-command shifting responsibility for the United States military in Iraq from Gen. David H. Petraeus to Gen. Ray Odierno.

Admiral Mullen’s visit to Pakistan — his fifth as chairman of the joint chiefs — was added to his itinerary after he had left Washington, according to an American military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The American Embassy in Islamabad requested that Admiral Mullen personally brief Pakistan’s civil and military leadership on the American military’s activities along the border, the official said. Admiral Mullen was due to meet Wednesday with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

“Clearly there are concerns in Pakistan about the American military strikes there and the U.S. Embassy wanted to invite him to get him in to talk to the Pakistani leaders,” the official said.

On Tuesday, a Pakistani governor made a televised appearance to insist that American forces had tried to cross the border early Monday and were repulsed by Pakistani fire, as local residents and a Pakistani government official had said the day before.

But the Pakistani and United States military publicly denied any such incident on Monday, and a Pakistani intelligence official said that an American helicopter had mistakenly crossed the border briefly, leading Pakistani ground forces to fire into the air.

In an interview on Pakistani television on Tuesday night, Owais Ahmed Ghani, the governor of North-West Frontier Province, said an incursion had occurred. “My political administration has reported that an incursion took place,” he said. “In the reaction, people and law enforcing officials took part.”

He said that only Pakistan had “a right to conduct operations on its soil. It will jealously guard its right and will not tolerate” incursions.

On Tuesday, American officials repeated their denials that such an incident occurred. Tensions in Pakistan have been mounting since the United States intensified its campaign in Pakistan’s border areas against militants suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The United States has become increasingly frustrated that the militants use the border areas as a refuge to stage attacks against American and NATO soldiers in southern Afghanistan.

The Sept. 3 raid complicated relations with the new civilian government in Pakistan, which is trying to stabilize the country after the resignation in August of President Pervez Musharraf, whom the Bush administration regarded as a strong ally.

But the administration has criticized Pakistan in recent months for not doing enough to curb attacks by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which keep bases inside the Pakistani tribal region and cross the border to attack American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

According to senior American officials, President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.

The Pakistani leadership has warned that the American attacks on Pakistani soil threaten to undermine the country’s democratically elected government.

On a visit to Britain on Tuesday, Pakistan’s newly elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, was quoted as saying after meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “This situation doesn’t help democracy. “

When asked about future cross border attacks, Mr. Zardari said: “I don’t think there will be any more.”

In a meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday with Jack Straw, the British justice secretary, Mr. Gilani said that Pakistan’s sovereignty had to be respected.

According to a press statement by the Pakistani prime minister’s office, Mr. Straw said that he “hoped that Pakistan would continue providing passage to NATO convoys through its territory on their way to Afghanistan.”