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US Urges Cooperation with Pakistan

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Meredith Buel

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen tried to ease tensions with Pakistan Friday, saying that now, more than ever, is the time for calm and cooperation.  The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made the remarks one day after U.S. and Pakistani troops exchanged fire along the border with Afghanistan.  VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Washington.

Admiral Mullen painted a bleak picture of the current situation in Pakistan, saying the South Asian nation's battle against extremists continues to get worse.

"Things are very tense and very dangerous in Pakistan," he said. "I would not expect anything else.  They face a growing and increasingly lethal insurgency on the border and inside their country, threatening the security of their newly elected government.  They are dealing with extremist safe havens, many of which are sheltered by local tribesmen."

Mullen's remarks followed an exchange of fire between Pakistani and U.S. troops on the Afghan border after Pakistani security forces shot at two U.S. helicopters.

While there were no injuries, the five-minute clash heightened tensions at a time the United States is stepping up military operations in a region known as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

Admiral Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon despite the difficult circumstances along the Afghan border, the United States and Pakistan need to continue their cooperative effort to fight the insurgents.

"That does not mean the sky is falling and it does not mean we should every overreact to the hair-trigger tension we are all feeling.  Now, more than ever, is the time for teamwork and for calm," he said.

Mullen says senior Pakistani military leaders have reassured him their troops have no intent or plan to fire on U.S. soldiers.

The admiral says he has no reason to believe the relationship between the two countries has changed as the result of the incident along the border and believes Islamabad is committed to cooperating with the U.S. military.

"I just am hard pressed to see a set of circumstances where there would be any kind of sustained fight between two allies.  That does not mean there would not be accidents.  I am not going to be totally surprised in the future if it continues to happen.  We are working, doing everything we possibly can, to make sure it does not," said Admiral Mullen.

Admiral Mullen praised Pakistan for its current military operation along the border in the Bajaur tribal region, saying there has been a recent reduction in the number of militants crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

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