ISLAMABAD // The new commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, Gen David Petraeus, was holding talks in Islamabad today with Pakistani officials and military top brass, the US embassy here said. Gen Petraeus - newly tasked with responsibility for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan - arrived in the Pakistani capital last night with the assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher, a spokesman said.
"They're having meetings with Pakistani officials and military leaders," he said. "This was a regular scheduled visit. This is something that has been on the books for quite some time." No further details were released for security reasons, he added. The Dawn newspaper said both men were scheduled to meet the defence minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and the chief of general staff Gen Ashfaq Khayani and were likely to drop in on the president Asif Ali Zardari.
The News daily added that the pair will also travel to Peshawar, the capital of the troubled North-West Frontier Province, to meet local commanders before leaving for Afghanistan. The 55-year-old Central Command (Centcom) chief, a counter insurgency specialist widely credited for progress in the US-led Iraq conflict, is making his first visit to Pakistan, amid concern at spiralling violence here. Pakistan is one of Washington's key allies in the so-called "war on terror".
But relations between the two countries have been strained by a series of suspected US missile strikes against Taliban and al Qa'eda insurgents hiding in Pakistan's lawless border areas. Last Wednesday, the Pakistan foreign ministry called in US Ambassador Anne Patterson to register its opposition to the continued strikes. But just two days later, two separate strikes killed 32 mainly al Qa'eda operatives, according to Pakistani security sources.
All the strikes have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones based in neighbouring Afghanistan, where US troops are engaged in escalating fighting with Taliban and other militants. *AFP