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LeT has expanded operations to Afghanistan: Mullen

LeT has expanded its operations to Afghanistan and the West and has become more active throughout the region, US` top official said.



Islamabad: LeT, blamed for the Mumbai attacks, has expanded its operations to Afghanistan and the West and has become more active throughout the region, which calls for concerted action against the outlawed group, America`s top military official said tonight.

"I`ve watched LeT (grow) since the end of 2008, move to the West, become more active in other countries, more active throughout the region, more engaged with other terrorist groups," Mullen, who arrived in Pakistan on Saturday to
meet with the leadership and military officials, said during an interaction with a group of journalists here.

Besides expanding to the West, the LeT "is in Afghanistan (and) other countries", Mullen said in response to
questions.

He said there is "heightened concern about (LeT’s) emergence and what is significant (is its) emergence not only
on the regional stage but potentially as a terror organisation
with global aspirations".

"There is an increased level of concern where the LeT is and where it appears to be headed. It is something we all
have to address," he said.

Mullen initially tried to parry a question on whether he had raised America`s concerns about the LeT with Pakistan`s leadership by saying that everyone would have to work together
to address the threat posed by the group.
In response to a pointed question on the same issue, Mullen indicated he had raised the matter with the Pakistani
leadership on more than one occasion.

"I tried to make the case that the LeT is a growing threat, it is an organisation that is becoming more lethal.
(This has been) proven so and it is not just operating where it used to be. It`s expanding, it is in the West, it is in Afghanistan, it is in other countries. All of us have to be concerned about it," he said.

India says Pakistan-based LeT, which was founded by terrorist leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, was behind the 2008
Mumbai carnage and wants Islamabad to take action against terror emanating from its soil against India.

The LeT, which was banned during the tenure of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, re-emerged as the
Jamaat-ud-Dawah. The JuD, which is also headed by Saeed, was banned by the UN in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Replying to another question, Mullen said the US believed top Al Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden and
Aiman al-Zawahiri, are in Pakistan.

The presence of these terrorist leaders in the region is a reason why "a principal part of the overall Af-Pak strategy is focussed on eliminate safe havens" for them, he said.

PTI

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had ruffled
feathers in Islamabad by claiming during a recent visit that
bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders are in Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had dismissed
her assertion, describing them as "speculations".
US-led forces in Afghanistan recently said they had
detected an influx of LeT operatives in Nangarhar province,
which borders Pakistan`s Khyber tribal region, and arrested
several persons associated with the move to send Pakistani
militants to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban.

Responding to questions, Mullen said al Qaeda leaders
are hiding in a "very secure place" and it is difficult to
trace them. He described Pakistan`s tribal belt bordering
Afghanistan as the "global headquarters" for the al Qaeda
terror network.

Mullen praised Pakistan for moving against militants
but said that there is still a need to take action against the
Haqqani network, which has been disturbing peace inside
Afghanistan.

He described the Haqqani group as "the most lethal
network" faced by US-led international forces in Afghanistan
and said he had repeatedly urged Pakistan to tackle this
threat. Pakistani forces are aware of the threat posed by the
Haqqani group, he said.

"The Haqqani network is strongly engaged and involved
in insurgencies in Afghanistan and there is a need to take a
much stronger position against it," said Mullen, who is on his
19th visit to Pakistan.

The US and Pakistan are strong allies in the war
against terror and America will continue providing help and
cooperation to Pakistan in this war, he said.

"The Pakistan government has made critical decisions
to achieve success in the war against terrorism," he said.

Asked about the withdrawal of US forces from
Afghanistan, he said such a move would not mark the end of the
mission but the start of a process whereby the US military
will stay in Afghanistan till complete peace is restored.

Answering a question about the reconciliation process
in Afghanistan, Mullen said the US leadership is fully
supporting the move led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as
both sides have a significant stake in this process. However,
he cautioned that the time was not right for reconciliation
with warring groups.

"Reconciliation can only be successful from a position
of strength. In my perspective, we are not in that position of
strength. We need to be in a very strong position for that to
be meaningful but we are not there," he said.

Mullen acknowledged that there had been an improvement
in the trust between Pakistan and US intelligence agencies but
indicated that more could be done in this field.
He appreciated the role played by the Pakistan Army
and the Inter-Services Intelligence in arresting and capturing
terrorists.

Replying to a question, Mullen said the US has its own
system of tracking the movement of terrorist across the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border and information in this regard
"does not come from the Indians".

Mullen denied the US had played any role in
influencing the Pakistan government to give a three-year
extension to army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, saying:

"Pakistan is a sovereign country and it is an internal issue
of Pakistan."

He also said there are "no secret American troops" in Pakistan. All US troops in the country were there at
Pakistan`s request for training purposes.

Mullen met Gen Tariq Majid, the Chairman of Pakistan`s
Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, as part of the "regular
bilateral consultations" between the two countries, said a
statement issued by the US embassy.

A separate statement issued by the Pakistani military
said Mullen and Majid discussed "international security
developments, outcome of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue,
Kabul conference and its effects on the region, India-Pakistan
confidence building, progress on efforts by Pakistan against
terrorism and violent extremism and other matters of bilateral
interest".

The statement did not give details.

PTI

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