US offers joint combat operations with Pakistan


Washington : US military has offered to undertake joint combat operations with Pakistani forces against Islamic militants if the government there requests help, Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates has said.

Support TwoCircles

This is seen as a change in the US position since Pentagon officials had so far avoided talking publicly about the possibility of operations with Pakistan because of avowed opposition by President Pervez Musharraf and the likelihood of widespread protests against direct American involvement.

“We remain ready, willing and able to assist the Pakistanis and to partner with them to provide additional training and to conduct joint operations should they desire to do so,” Gates said at a press conference Thursday.

He said deploying US troops in Pakistan to pursue Al Qaeda leaders was the “subject of ongoing dialogue” with officials there although the Pakistani government has not requested any additional assistance so far.

Admiral William J. Fallon, the Pentagon’s commander for the Middle East, was in Pakistan this week to meet with senior officials. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen said he did not know whether Fallon made or received any new proposals from Pakistanis.

“I think certainly if there is a desire on the part of the Pakistani armed forces and the Pakistani government to have us assist, we would certainly try to do that,” said Mullen who was present along with Gates at the press conference.

The US already has 28,000 troops in Afghanistan, but they are not allowed to go on hot pursuit of Taliban or Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a sovereign country, Gates said and “they clearly have the right to decide whether or not forces from another country are going to operate on their soil.”

Gates’ remarks are seen as a sign of warmer ties between the US and Pakistani armies since Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani took over as army chief from Musharraf in November.

Gen. Kayani has taken steps to focus his forces on the internal threat posed by Islamic militants and is working with the US military to improve his army’s counterinsurgency training.

“Al Qaeda has threatened to try and destabilize Pakistan, has threatened to assassinate Pakistani leaders,” Gates said.

Alluding to Pakistani army’s weak counterinsurgency abilities, Gates said, “The emergence of this fairly considerable security challenge in Pakistan has really been brought home to the Pakistani government relatively recently and particularly with the tragic assassination of (Benazir) Bhutto.

“So I think it’s not particularly surprising that they have not fully thought through exactly how they intend to proceed and their strategy going forward.”

Gates noted, however, that any combat operation in Pakistan would involve only a small number of US troops in the mountainous border area.

“You’re not talking about significant numbers of US troops if you’re talking about going after Al Qaeda in the border area,” Gates said.