By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 17, 2008 - Defense Department officials are assessing what help, if any, the department could extend to the government of Pakistan. Pakistan has become increasingly volatile due to political instability after the Dec. 27 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and stepped-up extremist activity in the ungoverned areas near the Afghanistan border.
"The character of the fight in Pakistan has changed to some extent, and it is more focused inward, and we're watching that very carefully," Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright said in a news briefing at the Pentagon today.
"Is it a threat that the (Pakistanis) are ready to handle? Do they need help? Do they need training help? Do they need other types of help? That's what we're trying to assess right now," he said.
Taliban and al Qaeda militants have taken refuge in Pakistan's remote tribal regions along the Afghan border since the United States ousted the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001. They have repeatedly targeted Pakistani soldiers with suicide attacks, roadside bombs and kidnappings.
"We're assessing what value we could have, or any other ally could have, in contributing to their security. But they're a sovereign nation. They have to make those decisions. And we will stand by and be available, particularly for those things that we might do in the way of training or in helping them in shortfalls, ..." Cartwright said.
This week, U.S. commanders in the region said the Pakistani government has become open to the idea of U.S. military help. So far, though, no official request has reached the Defense Department, Cartwright said.
"We have not gotten those reports back yet," Cartwright said. "We're trying to make sure we understand ground truth before we take any action so that it not misperceived, but contributes to their stability."
Cartwright said this could be an opportunity for the Pakistani and U.S. governments to work together in the interests of both.