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Commanders brief US envoy in Pakistan: officials

world Updated: Feb 12, 2009 09:38 IST
Saad Khan
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Military commanders on Wednesday briefed a new US troubleshooter on the fight against Islamists in the border areas with Afghanistan during a visit to northwest Pakistan, officials said.

Richard Holbrooke has embarked on a major review of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan after being appointed by President Barack Obama, who is determined to turn around the war against Islamist extremism in South Asia.

"Holbrooke met the top military commander for the northwestern region, Lieutenant General Masood Aslam, and attended a briefing on security issues after arrival in Peshawar," a military official said, requesting anonymity.

Pakistan's rugged tribal regions have been wracked by violence since becoming a stronghold for hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels who fled across the border to escape the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The area has been at the heart of strained relations between Islamabad and Washington, which has accused ally Pakistan of not doing enough to stop Islamist militants from attacking international troops across the border.

The US envoy's visit coincided with a bombing in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, which killed a provincial lawmaker and wounded seven others, underscoring the violence blighting the region.

"Holbrooke also travelled to Mohmand tribal region by helicopter, where senior military officials briefed him about ongoing military operations in the area," the official said.

Holbrooke had on Tuesday met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

US President Obama called Monday for a combined effort to eradicate Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan and in the border region with Pakistan, expressing concern over an Afghan government that "seems very detached."

Washington has put together plans to send up to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, which would double the US contingent fighting against a widening Taliban-led insurgency along with NATO forces.

"The US diplomat also held a meeting with provincial governor Owais Ahmad Ghani and discussed cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in the war on terror," an official at the governor's residence told AFP.

"Ghani also briefed Holbrooke about the ongoing military operation and development projects that the government has launched in the tribal regions."

Holbrooke will hold talks in Pakistan until Thursday and is also scheduled to visit Afghanistan and India before reporting back to Washington.

"I am here to listen and learn," in "this critically important country," Holbrooke said in a statement after arriving in Islamabad on Monday.

Pakistan has called for a new strategy to combat extremism based on dialogue with Washington and urged a rethink of US military action on its soil -- Islamabad is fiercely opposed to suspected US missile strikes against militants.

Separately, a security official said the military killed seven Taliban militants in Bajaur tribal region on Wednesday as part of a government offensive.

"Troops backed by tanks and artillery pounded militant hideouts in Mamoun, killing seven rebels and destroying 25 of their hideouts," senior security official Mustaqeem Khan told AFP.

The latest operation came against the background of an ultimatum laid down by Taliban rebels for government to evacuate the area or see schools destroyed.