Washington: A top US military commander in Afghanistan has said that despite setbacks US troops could stick to the withdrawal schedule for next year and brushed aside Pakistan`s Inter Services Intelligence links with terror groups, saying such contacts were to gather intelligence.
General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command, during a hearing by Congressional Committee, also conceded the existence of safe havens inside Pakistan.
In intense questioning by Senators whether in the face of continued upsurge by Taliban the US could stick to its troop withdrawal by 2011, Petraeus said there was no deadline
for completing a troop pullout and the pace of withdrawal will depend on circumstances at that time.
The Congressional hearings saw stepped up pressure on Pentagon with the top brass Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staffs Mike Mullen and Petraeus facing questions on growing negative perception in Washington on the war.
But the military leaders insisted that US led forces were regaining the initiative and making decisive breakthroughs and headway.
Grilled on reports of ISI having continued links with the terror outfits, Petraeus said: "You know, you have to have contact with bad guys to get intelligence on bad guys."
Petraeus was responding to questions from Congressmen who wanted to know from the general his views about the recent report by the London School of Economics which said that ISI continues to provide financing and training to Afghan Taliban.
"I don`t want to imply that I would accept the London School of Economic Study -- or the individual who wrote that for them -- his conclusions in all respects," Petraeus said.
"Having said that, there is no question but that there are a variety of relationships there, some of which date back decades from when we used the ISI to build the mujahedeen who were used to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan. And some of those ties continue in various forms, some of them, by the way, gathering intelligence," he said in his answer.
In response to another question, Petraeus said Pakistan is having a combination of counterterrorist strategy.
"You see extremist leaders being killed in a campaign, but you don`t see in some cases their sanctuaries or safe havens being taken away. And therefore they can regenerate,
they can replace themselves, and so forth. It doesn`t mean that it`s not hugely important to take out," he noted.
Referring to the recent killings of top extremist leaders in Pakistan, he said that it puts enormous pressure on their network. "It disrupts them considerably. But it doesn`t put a
stake through their heart.
"The only way you put a stake through their heart is by taking away ultimately their sanctuaries, their safe havens," Petraeus said.