A key friendship at the center of US-Pakistani relations
September 16th, 2011
04:25 PM ET

A key friendship at the center of US-Pakistani relations

By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

After more than two dozen face-to-face meetings in recent years, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, are having their final meeting this weekend before Mullen retires at the end of the month.

The meeting is taking place in Spain, where Kayani was invited to brief NATO members' military leaders on Pakistan's ongoing counterterrorism efforts.

The two men are not expected to break new ground, according to a senior U.S. military official, but to continue talking about ongoing operations in Pakistan's border region, improved military cooperation, and the growing threat posed by the Haqqani network.

U.S. officials increasingly believe Haqqani operatives are moving unfettered across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are responsible for several recent high profile attacks in Kabul, including this week's attack against the U.S. Embassy.

The senior U.S. military official - who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of U.S. military relations with Pakistan - said that even in a final meeting, Mullen will continue to press for U.S. security priorities.

"At no time when he meets with General Kayani does he waste the opportunity to speak about substantive issues," the official said.

Mullen is widely credited with achieving success in getting the Pakistani military to begin a stepped-up counterterrorism campaign in the tribal border regions, although it has never been fully implemented.

Mullen has talked about his "strong personal relationship" with Kayani.

"I consider him a friend," Mullen said at a Pentagon news conference in June. "But it's not just the personal relationship, because I have a very strong professional relationship." But Mullen was quick to point out that the two are not the sum total of U.S.-Pakistan military relations.

Relations between the two men grew frosty for a time after the secret U.S. helicopter raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Mullen personally telephoned Kayani after the raid to inform him that U.S. commandos had entered Pakistan without the Pakistani governments' knowledge.

"I think the investment, certainly that our military has made and I personally have made, has been one that has been very important in terms of working a critical relationship," Mullen said on May 18. "And obviously we've been through a great deal over time, not just recently.

"And when you back away from this, the amount of training that we've provided, what, in fact, has occurred inside Pakistan with respect to their military forces, in terms of getting at a growing terrorist threat that is very much in execution - Pakistani citizens are dying regularly - that that relationship has been a very important part in terms of their going after the terrorists in their own country."

Even after the raid, Mullen continued to press to keep the relationship between the two militaries intact, although many in the United States thought Pakistan was complicit in hiding bin Laden. "I've seen no evidence since the bin Laden raid that indicates that the top leadership knew bin Laden was there," Mullen said.

Mullen also has sought to reassure his Pakistani counterparts the U.S. military will not walk away despite criticism from political quarters in both countries.`

"I think it would be a really significantly negative outcome if the relationship got broken," he said.

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Filed under: 9/11 • Al Qaeda • CIA • drones • Military • Pakistan
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