US lauds Pak army's anti-terror effort
Pakistan's army is "fighting bravely" against terrorism, the top-ranking US military officer said after a visit to the country to discuss joint efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The statement Thursday from Adm. Mike Mullen came despite concern voiced by US government officials that Pakistan's cease-fire and peace talks with militants in its tribal regions will give hard-liners time and space to plan more attacks.
The outgoing American commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan this week urged Pakistan to confront militants or risk seeing the insurgency spread like a "brush fire."
But Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pakistan army remained committed to combating terrorism.
"Pakistan and the US remain steadfast allies, and Pakistan's military is fighting bravely against terrorism," said Mullen, whose latest trip was his third to Pakistan since February.
Mullen said Pakistani paramilitary forces -- supposed to take the lead in securing the lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border -- were making "strides."
The US government has offered to train and equip the force to improve its counterinsurgency skills, though the programme has yet to get under way.
"There is much work yet to do, of course, and the United States military stands ready to assist in any way the Pakistani government finds appropriate," said Mullen, who left Pakistan on Wednesday.
Mullen held talks over two days with military officials including Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who replaced stalwart US ally President Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan army chief last year.
He did not meet Musharraf, whose influence has further waned since his political allies lost February elections.
The new civilian government has sought to distance itself from Musharraf's sometimes forceful tactics against militants and is in peace talks through tribal elders in regions including notorious militant stronghold South Waziristan.