The nation's top military man warned Wednesday the U.S. must continue to work with Pakistan as a partner despite years of mistrust.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen did not directly refer to the latest tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, the arrests by Pakistan authorities of people who provided assistance and information prior to the successful raid on the Osama bin Laden compound and the killing of the al Qaeda leader.
But he said Pakistan remains critical to U.S. strategy.
"We must continue to pursue a partnership with Pakistan," Mullen told the Senate Appropriation Defense Subcommittee. "The alternative – drifting toward a more contentious or fractured relationship – is far more detrimental to US interests in strategically defeating al Qaeda and ensuring nuclear weapons do not fall into terrorists' possession," Mullen said in the opening statement released in advance of the hearing.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was appearing with Mullen , his last testimony before a Congressional panel before his retirement at the end of the month. Gates– referring to President Obama's goal of cutting $400 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next five years– again warned that the wrong kinds of cuts, and reduced funding for the military, carry additional risk for the nation. Both men were talking about next year’s defense budget, including $553 billion and an additional $117 billion for overseas operations, primarily the war in Afghanistan. Gates, just vack from his 12-th visit to Afghanistan said he had seen " impressive progress" there.
Gates joked "this time I mean it," when he noted this was his last testimony. Gates, selected by President Bush and persuaded to stay on by President Obama, has made no secret of his eagerness to retire.
And Gates said he only had an hour and a half for his time in the witness chair before he had to meet with officials of the Office of Managment and Budget, as the administration searches for ways to pare down federal spending. "Wish me luck," Gates told the senators.