US military chief meets Pakistani officials amid rift over US incursions into tribal areas

Posted in Pakistan , United States | 17-Sep-08 | Author: Paul Alexander| Source: International Herald Tribune

In this picture released by Press Information Department Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (C) talks to US Admiral Michael Mullen (rear-L) during a meeting at The Prime Minister House in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ The U.S. military chief met with Pakistani officials Wednesday amid a flap between the two allies over recent American attacks on militant targets in tribal areas near the Afghan border.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, arrived late Tuesday to discuss a range of issues, including ways to improve coordination and cooperation along the border.

He met Wednesday morning with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, and also had talks scheduled with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. It was not clear how long Mullen would be in Pakistan.

Mullen arrived the same day that Pakistan's army said its forces have orders to open fire if U.S. troops launch another raid across the Afghan border, raising the stakes in a dispute over how to tackle militant havens in Pakistan's unruly border zone.

Pakistan's government has faced rising popular anger over a Sept. 3 ground attack by U.S. commandos into South Waziristan, a base for Taliban militants killing ever more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan says about 15 civilians were killed.

The new firing orders were disclosed by Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. Abbas said Pakistani field commanders have previously been tolerant about international forces crossing a short way into Pakistan because of the ill-defined and contested nature of the mountainous frontier.

"But after the (Sept. 3) incident, the orders are clear," Abbas said. "In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire."

The statement was the strongest since Kayani raised eyebrows last week by vowing to defend Pakistani territory "at all cost." Abbas would not say whether the orders were discussed in advance with U.S. officials.

Rep. Gary Ackerman, Democratic chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia, and other lawmakers expressed concern about Abbas' comments at a hearing Tuesday to examine a Bush administration request to fund an upgrade of Pakistan's aging fleet of F-16 fighter planes.

Responding to the concerns, Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said: "I cannot envision a situation where we would find ourselves in a shooting situation with Pakistan."

U.S. military commanders complain Islamabad has been doing too little to prevent the Taliban and other militant groups from recruiting, training and resupplying in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt.

Pakistan acknowledges the presence of al-Qaida fugitives and its difficulties in preventing militants from seeping into Afghanistan. However, it insists it is doing what it can and paying a heavy price, pointing to its deployment of more then 100,000 troops in the increasingly restive northwest and a wave of suicide bombings across the country.