Mon, Sep 19, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Military chiefs meet to save US-Pakistan ties

AFP, Washington

Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, right, listens to US Admiral Mike Mullen at the start of a NATO conference in Seville, Spain, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

The top US and Pakistani military leaders met in Spain to discuss ways to shore up strained ties after a US raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a spike in violence in Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokesman said.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani sat down for more than two hours of talks late on Friday on the sidelines of a NATO conference in Seville, Mullen’s spokesman Captain John Kirby said on Saturday.

“They agreed that the relationship between our two countries remained vital to the region and that both sides had taken positive steps to improve that relationship over the past few months,” Kirby said.

“They also discussed the state of military-to-military cooperation and pledged to continue to find ways to make it better,” he added.

It was the first meeting between the pair since the May 2 nighttime military raid in which US Navy SEALs, without first notifying Islamabad, killed the al-Qaeda leader in the compound in Abbottabad where he had been hiding.

As relations worsened in the aftermath of the raid, Washington announced it could cut some of the US$2.7 billion in military aid it sends to Pakistan.

Islamabad, for its part, ordered as many as 200 US military trainers out of the country in the aftermath of the operation.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has expressed frustration that Islamabad has so far failed to crack down on Haqqani network militants that Washington suspects attacked the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

The attack was launched by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades at the heavily fortified embassy. At least a half-dozen rocket-propelled grenades landed inside the compound, killing 15 people.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said on Saturday there was evidence linking the Pakistani government with the Taliban-allied Haqqani network of militants blamed for the attack.

“There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop,” Munter told state-run Radio Pakistan.

Citing unnamed Afghan officials, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that mobile phones found on the slain attackers after the raid indicate they were in contact with people from “outside Afghanistan.”

The possibility Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency might have been involved in the raid was considered within hours of the attack when US President Barack Obama’s National Security Council met on Wednesday to discuss it, the Journal said.

According to the paper, a senior US defense official said there was currently no “actionable intelligence” linking Pakistan’s spy service to the attack.

“But we’re looking for it — closely,” the official was quoted in the report as saying.

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