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U.S. warily encouraged over Pakistan

U.S. military officials are encouraged by recent Pakistani moves against Islamic militants, but believe it’s too soon to tell whether the offensive against insurgent advances will be lasting.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he remains “gravely concerned” about attacks by the Taliban both in southern Afghanistan and inside Pakistan, even though the Pakistani military has begun to move against militants in a disputed region near Islamabad.

“It’s a question, as I said, of sustainment,” Mullen said at a news briefing. “I’ve certainly seen, over the last couple of years, bursts of fighting and engagement and then a desire to assess them on the spot. And they’re not sustained.”

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s military chief, has prepared a range of potential operations to continue a push against extremists, Mullen said. But U.S. military officials are concerned both about the Pakistani military’s will to fight and its ability to arrange the logistics needed for a long-term military commitment in the mountainous border region.

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Mullen’s comments represent the view of a U.S. official who has focused intensively on Pakistan. Mullen has visited Pakistan 11 times since 2007, including twice in April.

U.S. concern has grown since February, when Taliban militants and the Pakistani government reached a cease-fire deal in the Swat Valley that allowed insurgents to impose Islamic law. Last month, Taliban militants began moving closer to the capital, Islamabad, into Buner, about 60 miles away, prompting a Pakistani counterattack.

U.S. officials have criticized Pakistan for failing to treat the militant threat seriously, but Mullen said its counterinsurgency training is improving.

“So they are shifting. It’s just going to take some time,” Mullen said. “That’s where the patience and persistence piece must kick in, as far as I’m concerned, from our perspective.”

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julian.barnes@latimes.com


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