The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is expressing concern about the growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.
Admiral Mullen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Barack Obama's new strategy in that country is aimed at creating an environment that will not permit al-Qaida to return to Afghanistan.
"There is a strategic goal the Taliban have, to move back and take over the country, and secondly, in that goal, in that environment, that that is fertile ground for al-Qaida, who continues not to be just in Pakistan, but is now moving into Yemen, is connected very well in Somalia, and in other parts of the world," said Admiral Mullen. "Their strategic objectives remain the same - to threaten us, to threaten the west, and that fertile ground to do that would be Kandahar and Kabul again, if we do not get this right."
Mullen underscored his concern by noting growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.
"While al-Qaida is not located in Afghanistan, it is headquartered clearly in Pakistan, what I have watched over the last couple of years is this growing integration between al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the various networks of the Taliban, whether it is [Jalaluddin] Haqqani, or [Baitullah] Mehsud or [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar, and that has alarmed me in its growth and integration over the last couple of years," he said.
Mullen's testimony comes two months after President Obama announced his decision to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to help bolster the war effort.
Mullen defended the decision to send more troops. But when asked by Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, whether the additional U.S. forces could destabilize Pakistan by driving Taliban and al-Qaida fighters further into that country, Mullen said he is not sure.
MULLEN: "I don't know the answer to that. I don't think it will because we are aware of it and I think Pakistan is further away from being totally destabilized than a lot of people realize. The military and civilian leadership recognize this potential, and so we are addressing it ahead of time."
FEINGOLD: "Thank you, that's a candid answer."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, emphasized the importance of security in Pakistan.
"If a nuclear armed nation of 170 million people were to become a failed state, it would pose an unimaginable peril to itself, its neighbors and the world," said Senator Kerry.
Kerry is cosponsoring legislation with Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the committee, that triples non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion over five years.