The top U.S. military officer says the United States has shared intelligence with Pakistan that was gathered by unmanned aircraft flying over Pakistani territory. But he says there is no joint-control of drone missions, as a U.S. newspaper reported on Wednesday. The comments came during a U.S. Senate committee hearing, at which one leading senator called on the Pakistani government to be more supportive of U.S. efforts to clear the region of militant groups.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the United States has provided Pakistan with pictures taken by the unmanned aircraft operated by the U.S. military. But he said Pakistan has not requested any such photos for the past month, while it has been engaged in a major offensive against militants in the Swat Valley, not far from the capital, Islamabad.
At the same time, Mullen blasted a story in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times, which said the United States has given Pakistan a measure of control over other unmanned flights used to attack militant targets in Pakistan. Those flights are believed to be operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, but U.S. officials never officially acknowledged the agency's activities. Mullen had this exchange with the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Carl Levin.
Mullen: "The report in the L.A. Times yesterday was very inaccurate."
Levin: "And that report was that they have joint control.
Mullen: "Yes, sir. And that was completely inaccurate."
The flights that attack militants are sometimes blamed for causing civilian casualties, and routinely result in sharp criticism from the Pakistani government. Senator Levin called on Pakistani officials to publicly acknowledge the help they get from at least some of the unmanned U.S. flights.
"I wish they'd tell their public about their support of our operations instead of just attacking us for them, because that is one of the things that just creates propaganda fodder for the very people who are out to destroy us and them," said Senator Levin.
Senator Levin also criticized Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for saying the United States should give his country "much more" military aid. Levin said to get the $700 million worth of aid the Obama Administration wants to provide, Pakistan must take on the fight against the militants, and must explain the militant threat to the Pakistani people.
At the same hearing, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the move by al-Qaida militants to take control of a district in the Swat Valley a few weeks ago resulted in an important change in the Pakistani government's view of the relatively autonomous tribal areas in its north and west.
"They've never considered it a threat to the stability of the nation," said Secretary Gates. "I think that has changed in the last three weeks or so, and I think that the senior leadership of the government gets that. Being able to communicate it to the rest of the country is the next challenge that they face."
Secretary Gates and other U.S. officials have frequently said that getting control of Pakistan's tribal areas, and rooting out the militants there, is one of the keys to regional stability, and to U.S. success against the same groups across the border in Afghanistan. Gates says the United States has given Pakistan $6.8 billion to support its military operations against militants in recent years.
Also at the hearing, Admiral Mullen said it is not only Pakistan's top leaders who need to recognize the militant threat. He said Pakistan's powerful intelligence service, the ISI, must also change its approach, and one key to that is convincing its leaders there will be a long-term U.S. commitment to helping them defeat the militants.
"The ISI in the long run has to change its strategic thrust and get away from working both sides," he said. "That's how they have been raised, certainly over the last couple of decades, and that's what they [are going to continue to] believe, until they think we're going to be there for a while."
Admiral Mullen also confirmed reports that Pakistan is increasing its nuclear weapons program, but provided no details. Senator Jim Webb, an expert on defense issues, said that is a cause for "enormous concern," because with the militant threat, he said, Pakistan's government is not very stable.