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'Pak-Afghan border still epicentre of Al Qaeda'

Noting that the "border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains the epicentre of Al Qaeda," President Barack Obama says he has "no intention of sending US boots on the ground" to Yemen and Somalia.

world Updated: Jan 11, 2010 10:36 IST

Noting that the "border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains the epicentre of Al Qaeda," President Barack Obama says he has "no intention of sending US boots on the ground" to Yemen and Somalia.

"I do think it's important to recognize that the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains the epicentre of Al Qaeda, their leadership, and their extremist allies," he said in excerpts of an interview with People magazine released on Sunday.

Obama acknowledged both Yemen and Somalia harbour elements of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, but said he prefers to help the governments of those countries deal with that threat.

"We've known throughout this year that Al Qaeda in Yemen has become a more serious problem." He said, "The same is true in Somalia, another country where there are large chunks that are not fully under government control and Al Qaeda is trying to take advantage of them."

While he never ruled out any possibilities, Obama said he had "no intention of sending US boots on the ground in those regions" while the local governments remain effective partners.

Obama's remarks echoed those of his top military commanders. In interviews with CNN aired on Sunday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General David H Petreaus, head of US Central Command, too seemed to rule out sending American forces to Yemen.

"And right now, as far as any kind of boots on the ground there with respect to the United States, that's just not - that's not a possibility," he said as executing Obama strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan presents his biggest challenge.

The situation in Pakistan seems to be shifting, he said referring to Pakistani campaign over the last year in South Waziristan.

The US relationship with Pakistan is absolutely critical, Mullen said. His many visits to Pakistan are part of an effort to rebuild trust lost as the US has a long history of supporting the country, but also has left it "hanging several times," he said. Mullen said the visits help him understand, through the eyes of the Pakistanis, what the country's challenges are.

In a separate interview Petreaus said he also does not want to send American forces to Yemen. "We would always want a host nation to deal with a problem itself," he said.

While Al Qaeda is under pressure in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the organisation is now seeking refuge in Yemen, Petraeus said the most important locale in America's war against terror is the Pak-Afghan border.