Pakistan should keep pressure on Taliban: Gates

US has tripled number of military helicopters for Pak flood relief operation.

Washington: The US has told Pakistan to keep pressure on radical militant groups operating close to the border with Afghanistan as Washington tripled the number of military helicopters for flood relief operations in the country.

The US has also moored a helicopter borne amphibious assault ship, `USS Peleliu`, of the coast off Karachi awaiting orders to fly its 19 helicopters to disaster zone.

The deployment of the helicopter carrier was announced by Defence Secretary Robert Gates amidst warnings about the massive scale of flood disaster in Pakistan.

Pointing out that there had been dramatic improvement in military relations with Pakistan, Gates who was speaking in Tampa, Florida said with US assistance Pakistan had come to recognise the Taliban threat from within.

"We want them to keep pressing forward (against the terrorists), as they have been," Gates, who was speaking at a ceremony for Marine Corps General James Mattis taking over as the commander of US Central Command, said.

"We have seen dramatic improvements in the US military relationship with Pakistan, overcoming more than a decade of distrust and estrangement," the US Defence Secretary said as he praised Pakistani military contribution into war against terrorism.

Touching upon the devastation caused by floods in Pakistan, Gates said that flood relief work in Pakistan would naturally draw the attention of the Pak military.

The 19 new helicopters being deployed in Pakistan would replace six American helicopters -- redeployed from Afghanistan -- which have so far rescued 3,000 people and airdropped 146 tonnes of aid in worst flood hit areas of northwestern Pakistan.

Asked about the possible impact of floods on the Pakistani military`s fight against the militants, Gates said, "They are going to have to divert some troops and already have to deal with the flooding.”

"But I would say that we weren`t expecting them to undertake new offensives for some period of time anywhere. It really depends on how many troops they have to deploy in flood relief," he said.

The US defence secretary said the helicopter carrier would be replaced in time by another larger warship `USS Kearsarge` with a larger aid capacity.

Meanwhile, the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has dismissed reports that hardline Islamist charities were getting involved in flood relief to gain public support.

"This should not be the worry right now. We should work towards getting relief and assistance to the people," Holbrooke said.


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