U.S., Pakistani Leaders Build Relationship

By Jim Garamone

U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, left front, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Army General David H. Petraeus, Commander, Multinational Force Iraq, observe flight operations from the flag bridge during a visit to USS Abraham Lincoln, in the North Arabian Sea.

U.S. Navy Photo / Photo by James R. Evans

USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN – U.S. and Pakistani military leaders continued their ongoing dialogue about the war on terrorism during an August 26 meeting aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters today his meeting with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani army’s chief of staff, was constructive and focused on the challenges posed by extremists in the federally administered tribal area and the North West Frontier in Pakistan. The Taliban and al-Qaida are using the areas to plan and train for attacks in Afghanistan.

“There is … a growing complexity and coordination among extremist groups there — an almost syndicate-like behavior — that has resulted in new and ever more sophisticated attacks on coalition forces,” Mullen said. He pointed to attacks against French forces near Kabul last week and against U.S. forces in the Wanat Valley near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan last month.

“The safe havens in the border regions provide launching pads for these sorts of attacks, and they need to be shut down,” the admiral said.

Accompanying Mullen at the conference was Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan; Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, acting U.S. Central Command chief; Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the soon-to-be commander of U.S. Central Command who now commands Multinational Force Iraq; and Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Mullen said he came away from the long-planned meeting “very encouraged that the focus is where it needs to be and that the … military-to-military relationship we’re building with Pakistan is getting stronger every day.”

This was the fifth visit Mullen has made with Kayani since February, and was a chance to keep the lines of communication open between the two militaries.

“For me, more than anything, this was a chance to better understand a very complex challenge in a critical part of the world and to try to do that through the eyes of the leadership who live and work and fight there every single day,” Mullen said.

Kayani understands the threat extremists pose to his country, Mullen said. The U.S. and Pakistani leaders went over the specifics of the threat facing Pakistan and Afghanistan and what can be done about it. The meeting was important in “terms of learning as well as continuing to look at where … we can support and how we can understand each other better, with a … very clear need from the United States’ standpoint and from the Pakistani standpoint, that we have got to figure out a way to get at this problem,” the chairman said.

The Pakistani military faces a conventional military challenge from India and the extremist challenge. Kayani understands the situation, Mullen said, and is moving toward combating the extremist problem on the border with Afghanistan.

“I’m pleased that he’s moving in that direction and that he is, actually, operating,” Mullen said. “And again, we’re trying to figure out … how that fits into bringing pressure onto that border to work to minimize the cross-border operations from Pakistan into Afghanistan on the case of the insurgents. It’s just going to take some time.

Different areas of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan pose different challenges, Mullen said, and long-term solutions must be in place to address the root causes of extremism.

“It continues to be an extraordinarily complex problem [in Pakistan],” the chairman said. “We need to continue to press on it. There are areas that we can do better. There are areas that the Pakistan military can do better. We understand that. It’s an area, I think, we can all improve on. But it is not going to be something that gets solved overnight.”

The United States will continue to work with Kayani and will continue to reach out to improve the military-to-military relationship.

“As I have come to know him … his goal … is to do the right thing by Pakistan,” Mullen said. “He’s an extraordinary individual, and his ultimate … principles and goals are to do what’s best for Pakistan. And everything he’s done in our engagement indicates that’s absolutely the case.”