US military chief heads to Pakistan to discuss attacks on Nato troops

Admiral Mike Mullen, the US military's top officer heads to Islamabad amid US concerns over the presence of militants blamed for attacks on NATO-led troops in Afghanistan.

The US military's top officer heads to Islamabad on Saturday amid US concerns over the presence of militants blamed for attacks on NATO-led troops in Afghanistan. On the eve of his one-day visit, Admiral Mike Mullen acknowledged worries over extremist sanctuaries in Pakistan, including the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan. Security officials said today that a US drone had fired four missles into a compound used by militants in the countrys' northwestern tribal belt. The missiles targeted the compound in Dwasarak village, about 40 kilometres west of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.

Admiral Mullen, speaking at a press conference yesterday in New Delhi, called the Haqqani militants "the most lethal network" faced by the US-led international force in Afghanistan and said he has repeatedly urged Pakistan to tackle the threat. "I continue to address that with the [Pakistani] leadership as a very, very strong priority," Admiral Mullen added. Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani "is aware of that priority and in terms of what we think needs to happen," Mullen said.

Created by Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and run by his son Sirajuddin, the Haqqani group is one of the toughest foes for foreign forces in Afghanistan, particularly in the east of the country. Mullen also said Pakistan's intelligence service needed to change its outlook, an apparent reference to charges that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI sees Islamist militants as a hedge against its arch-rival India.

"I believe the strategic approach, the overall strategic approach of ISI needs to fundamentally change," he said. US officials have praised Pakistan for moving against militants in the northwest but have urged the military to expand its operations to include the Haqqani network. Mullen was due to meet Pakistan's powerful army chief, General Kayani, on Saturday, after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday gave the officer three more years in the top job.

The US admiral has cultivated relations with Kayani, and US officials have credited Kayani for launching major offensives against Taliban militants over the last year. General Kayani assumed command of the Pakistan army in November 2007 after his predecessor Pervez Musharraf relinquished command amid international pressure to end his eight years of military rule. Washington calls the tribal belt a global headquarters of al Qa'eda and the most dangerous place on Earth.