US military chief cites progress against Haqqanis

Pakistan`s intelligence agency has long been suspected of maintaining ties to the Haqqani network.

Kabul: The top US military officer said on Sunday Afghan militants of the anti-American Haqqani network were finding it harder to move into Afghanistan but warned that their safe havens in Pakistan still posed a risk to the decade-old war effort.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military`s Joint Chiefs of Staff, travelled earlier in the day to eastern Afghanistan where Haqqani militants are attacking US forces.

"The overall goal has been to make it much more difficult for the Haqqani network to penetrate directly in what has previously been called sort of this `jet stream` between Pakistan, right through Khost (province) into Kabul," Mullen told a news conference in the Afghan capital.

"And it is more difficult (now)."

Pakistan`s intelligence agency has long been suspected of maintaining ties to the Haqqani network, cultivated during the 1980s when Jalaluddin Haqqani was a feared battlefield commander against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Based in Pakistan`s wild North Waziristan area on the Afghan border, Haqqani refrains from attacking the Pakistani state, and critics say Islamabad sees the network as a lever to maintain influence in any future political settlement in Afghanistan.

Mullen has in the past has accused Pakistani intelligence of having a "longstanding relationship" with Haqqani faction, one of the deadliest groups fighting US troops in Afghanistan.

He told reporters in Kabul that Washington continued to press Islamabad to go after the safe havens enjoyed by the Haqqani group and other militants.

"The safe havens that exist in Pakistan are a central and great risk in terms of the achievement of the overall strategy," Mullen said.

"So we continue to engage on that, continue to bring pressure on that. But I would be hard pressed to tell you time and place, when it`s going to happen."

Ties between the United States and Pakistan were deeply strained after US special forces launched a secret raid in Pakistan in May to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, compounding fears the safe havens could go unaddressed.

A NATO military official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that there was only a minimal chance that the Haqqani threat could be eliminated.

"If something happens on the other side of the border and those sanctuaries get reduced...that`s great" the official said.

"We`re not counting on it. What we are trying to do is to build the Afghans` capacity so they can handle that."

Bureau Report

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