Top US army official: al-Qaeda, Taliban leaders in Pakistan

Other News Materials 16 December 2009 22:09 (UTC +04:00)

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, said Wednesday that top al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership are hiding in Pakistan, dpa reported.

"We see them still planning to kill as many Americans as they have before," Mullen told a selected group of journalist in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, where he is holding meetings with political and military leadership during a two-day visit.

US authorities have routinely alleged that al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan ever since US forces lost the world's most- wanted man in the mountains of Tora Bora, on the Afghan-Pakistani border, in December 2001.

Similarly, the Americans have claimed that most of the top Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, are commanding the Afghanistan insurgency from Pakistan.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last week that his country had lacked good intelligence on bin Laden for years.

But Mullen insisted that Taliban and al-Qaeda "resource" were in Pakistan and so was their "their leadership."

"And we are going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that it does not happen again," he said.

Mullen is visiting Pakistan as part of US efforts to take Pakistani political and military leaders into their confidence about a new US policy in Afghanistan, under which America is deploying 30,000 additional troops to rein in the emboldened Taliban.

He arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday after a brief visit of Afghanistan.

Despite extra troops, the US relies heavily on Pakistan, expecting that its troops would take on thousands of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who are believed to have taken shelter in Pakistan's lawless tribal region, following the US invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

Taking advantage of the rugged region, these militants have carried out regular attacks on US-led international forces in Afghanistan, causing instability in war-torn Afghanistan.

More than 150,000 Pakistani military and paramilitary troops are fighting the rebels in that country's border areas with Afghanistan, but success remains elusive.

Mullen appreciated Pakistan's efforts to root out terrorism but said: "Still, we need to do a lot."

Two months of fighting have left around 600 militants and 70 soldiers dead, according to military officials.

A military statement on Wednesday said that six militants and one soldier were killed in South Waziristan during clashes and raids. The figures cannot be independently verified since the region is banned for reporters and the aid agencies.

Though Pakistan has claimed victory in the ongoing Waziristan operation, most of the estimated 10,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda militants have fled to neighbouring tribal districts.

Pakistan plans to pursue the Taliban in their new safe havens, particularly in Orakzai and Kurram districts, but is for the moment using mainly airstrikes to target the rebels.

Major Fazalur Reham, a spokesman of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which serves as the frontline against Taliban insurgency in Pakistan's north-west region, said on Wednesday that 18 militants died when the helicopter gunships pounded Taliban hideouts in the two districts.

"We also destroyed some of their strategic installations," he added.