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US military chief sidesteps question on missile strikes

Top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen declined to confirm or deny a suspected US missile strike in northwest Pakistan but said Washington was concerned about terrorist safe havens on the border with Afghanistan.

world Updated: Mar 01, 2009 22:02 IST
AFP
Hindustantimes

Top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen on Sunday declined to confirm or deny a suspected US missile strike in northwest Pakistan but said Washington was concerned about terrorist safe havens on the border with Afghanistan.

Asked if two suspected missile strikes were proof that President Barack Obama was escalating US attacks on Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan, Mullen said: "Well, I'm not going to talk a lot about our operations specifically."

"There is a continuing concern with the existence of the safe haven in Pakistan, and that has to be addressed, has been addressed and needs to continue to be addressed," Mullen said in an interview broadcast on Sunday on Fox News.

The admiral's comments came after security officials in Pakistan said at least eight people were killed on Sunday in two suspected US missile strikes in the northwest, near the Afghan border.

The tribal South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan is as known haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said NATO-led troops were working with Pakistani and Afghan forces to counter Al-Qaeda and allied insurgents operating in the border region.

"We've brought pressure on both sides of the border, Pakistani military as well as coalition forces and Afghan forces and we did toward the end of 2008 and that will continue to happen and we need to continue to bring that pressure on both sides and continue to coordinate those operations," Mullen said.

The attack on Sunday was the fourth suspected missile strike by unmanned US aircraft since President Barack Obama took office on January 20.

A suspected US missile strike on Feb 16 destroyed an Afghan Taliban camp and killed 26 in Pakistan's northwest tribal area of Kurram.

While the Pakistani government has pledged support for the US fight against terrorist threats, the strikes have fuelled anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and particularly in the tribal belt, where Washington says Al-Qaeda and Taliban operate from sanctuaries.

The tribal areas have been wracked by violence since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels sought refuge in the region after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.