Admiral Mike Mullen's assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington, according to American officials involved in US policy in the region.
The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen's characterisations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.
The administration has long sought to pressure Pakistan, but to do so in a nuanced way that does not sever the US relationship with a country that US sees as crucial to maintaining long-term stability in the region.
Mullen's testimony to a Senate committee was widely interpreted as an accusation by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff that Pakistan's military and espionage agencies sanction and direct bloody attacks against US troops and targets in Afghanistan.
Mullen's language "overstates the case," said a senior Pentagon official with access to classified intelligence files on Pakistan, because there is scant evidence of direction or control. If anything, the official said, the intelligence indicates that Pakistan treads a delicate if duplicitous line, providing support to insurgent groups including the Haqqani network but avoiding actions that would provoke a US response.
"The Pakistani government has been dealing with Haqqani for a long time and still sees strategic value in guiding Haqqani and using them for their purposes," the Pentagon official said. But "it's not in their interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a (US) compound would do."
Pakistani officials acknowledge that they have ongoing contact with the Haqqani network. US officials see indications that their Pakistani counterparts can exert influence on the Haqqani group in some cases, if not exert control.
In an exclusive partnership with The Washington Post.