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'Safe haven' in Pak let Taliban grow stronger, says Mullen

June 16, 2009 17:39 IST

The Taliban against whom US-led forces are fighting in Afghanistan grew "more effective" in the last three years because they had "safe haven" in the tribal areas of Pakistan to "rest" and "train" before returning to fight, US' top military commander has said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military offensive launched by the Pakistan army has helped obstruct the Taliban's "flow to Afghanistan". "For the last three years... the violence level has gone up. They have also become much more effective because they have had a safe haven in which to reside in Pakistan so they can train there, they can rest there and then they can return to the fight in Afghanistan," Mullen said in a podcast.

Despite objections by former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the term 'Af-Pak', Mullen said Afghanistan and Pakistan are part of the same war theatre and are both linked. "The strategy is one that links Afghanistan and Pakistan... It focuses on defeating al Qaeda, whose headquarters and many members reside in the safe haven in Pakistan," Mullen said.

Noting that the anti-Taliban military offensive in Pakistan has had a significant impact on insurgents, Mullen said: "It has taken numbers off the battlefield. It also has kept them and impacted their well-being in Pakistan and not allowed them to flow to Afghanistan, which is an important part here". "...So my hat's off to the Pakistan military for taking these steps," Mullen said.

Mullen, however, insisted it is important that Pakistan strengthen its hold on the areas through counterinsurgency. "They have also got to hold it and their government needs to build a capability -- build and develop capability behind them so that the Taliban don't return," he said. "So I'm encouraged by what I see there. We continue to work with them in many ways and we'll need to continue to do that. But that relationship is one where we're repairing after almost over a decade of damage because we sanctioned them and it's going to take us quite some time to repair it to the level that I think it sustains itself to both meet these challenges as well as challenges in the future," he said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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