War on Terrorism

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mullen Expresses Confidence in U.S.-Pakistan Relationship

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2010 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he’s confident the U.S. and Pakistan can resolve the issues that led to Pakistan closing a major supply route for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, and he hasn't yet seen any major impact from the closing.

The U.S. military has analyzed the situation to determine what the effects would be if the route was closed for a longer period, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters between speaking engagements Oct. 1 in Tucson, Ariz., but officials are hoping such a closure can be averted.

“I believe we will figure a way to work our way through this,” he said, emphasizing Pakistan’s importance as a strategic partner.

Pakistan’s military closed the crossing at Torkham Gate along its northwestern border with Afghanistan after U.S. helicopters unknowingly killed several Pakistani border guards Sept. 30. The incident escalated tensions over civilian casualties along the border, prompting the closure.

About 50 percent of coalition forces’ non-lethal supplies, including water, food and fuel, reach Afghanistan through Pakistan’s Torkham and Shaman gates.

Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 20 times since taking the top military post in 2007, said the United States has been working to rebuild Pakistani trust. How that’s resolved, he said, will go a long way toward shaping the future U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

“We left them in a dark hole from about 1990 to 2002, and they don’t trust us,” he said. “We are trying to rebuild that trust. And it’s basically coming, but you don’t rebuild it overnight.”

This effort, he noted, comes at a time of “enormous challenge” for Pakistan, whose border with Afghanistan is “the epicenter of terrorism.”

Massive flooding has compounded Pakistan’s struggles. “They have just been devastated,” said Mullen, who toured flood-stricken areas of Pakistan last month with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani army’s chief of staff.

Meanwhile, the American military continues to provide relief to flood victims in northwestern Pakistan. U.S. military aid operations began Aug. 5 with Army helicopters from Afghanistan delivering supplies and rescuing those trapped by flooding. Marine helicopters from the USS Peleliu replaced the Army aircraft, and together they have delivered more than 8 million pounds or relief supplies, reported DOD spokesman Marine Col. David Lapan.

Air Force C-130s and C-17s have been delivering aid since Aug. 16. As of last week, airmen have delivered more than 5.5 million pounds of aid. This brings the total to almost 13.7 million pounds of aid, Lapan said.

The U.S. military aircraft have rescued more than 20,000 displaced Pakistanis.

“Flood relief efforts continue,” Lapan said. “It has not been curbed, but there are ongoing discussions about what the need is, because there are now roads open that were not previously.”

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