The al Qaeda leadership, including its elusive supremo Osama bin Laden, was in the restive tribal belt of Pakistan, but the US was not planning to send combat troops to a 'sovereign country' to hunt them down, the top American military official has said.
"I do, I do" -- this is how Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen responded when asked whether he believes the al Qaeda leadership and bin Laden is in Pakistan.
"Our major goal in that area right now is ... to disrupt and defeat al Qaeda whose leadership resides in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas," he said but ruled out sending troops to Pakistan on hot pursuit as it is a 'sovereign country'.
"We don't go into sovereign countries," he said.
When the interviewer pointed out that the US went to Iraq and Afghanistan, the top American General said, "We don't go into sovereign countries unless we're invited in .... Afghanistan was a country from which the al Qaeda leadership struck us and we responded."
To a question, he admitted that al Qaeda could also strike the US from FATA and said "That's why the top objective of the current strategy is to defeat al Qaeda."
In a damning indictment, he added that the Inter Services Intelligence is fomenting 'chaotic activity' in Kashmir and Afghanistan and asked the Pakistani spy agency to change its 'strategic thrust'.
The US is having 'discussions' with the Pakistani leadership on this issue, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
Elaborating, he said the ISI has been supporting militant groups in Kashmir and the Federally Administered Tribal Area bordering Afghanistan.
"I believe that in the long run, the ISI has to change its strategic thrust, which has been to foment chaotic activity in its border countries," Mullen, who has traveled to Islamabad nearly a dozen times in the past one year, said.
"That has been a Pakistan view to its own survival and its own security. And I think in the long run that's got to change," he said in an interview to Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV.
"What I mean is that they have clearly focused on support of ... historically, of militant organisations both east (India) and west (Afghanistan). I mean that's been a focus of theirs in Kashmir historically as well as in FATA. And I think ... that fundamentally has to change," he said.
His remarks came when he was asked to explain what he meant by saying that the ISI had a strategic thrust to foment chaos in neighbouring countries.
Describing ISI's close links with the Taliban as 'another extraordinarily complex' relationship, Mullen said, "And it's one that I've spoken very publicly about."
At the same time, he said ISI has also provided 'some very positive intelligence' in the past. "The ISI has also served some very positive intelligence needs both in the country and certainly between our two countries," he said.
"So, I think it's something we keep discussing, keep looking at. In the long run, it is about Pakistan's security and better security in the region for both those countries."
Mullen also said that the US was having discussions with the Pakistani leadership on how to change the ISI's focus.
"There are discussions which have been ongoing in respect to that and the leadership recognises that and there is a big challenge dealing with that, based on what their history is and what they need to do for the future," he said.