Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistani officials warned Gen. David H. Petraeus on Monday that frequent missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan incite anti-American sentiment in an Islamic country vital to the struggle against terrorism.

The new U.S. commander of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq met Pakistani officials, including Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as part of his first international trip since taking over U.S. Central Command three days earlier.

There is growing U.S. concern about how Islamic militants are using pockets of Pakistan’s northwestern region as sanctuaries from which to support the escalating insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

Complaints from U.S. commanders about Pakistan’s efforts to counter the insurgents have been accompanied by a surge of missile strikes, which have continued despite strong condemnation from Islamabad.

A Defense Ministry statement said Mr. Mukhtar told Gen. Petraeus and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher that the missile strikes from drones “generate anti-America sentiments as well as create outrage and uproar among the people.”

Washington is suspected in at least 17 missile strikes in Pakistan since August. In September, a U.S. ground assault in a tribal region in Pakistan’s northwest spurred particular outrage in Pakistan, whose pro-Western government must be mindful of widespread resentment of U.S. policy in the region. There have been no reports of additional ground assaults since.

Acting U.S. Embassy spokesman Wes Robertson declined to provide specifics on Gen. Petraeus’ agenda for security reasons. However, he also is expected to meet with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.

At the Defense Ministry, officials briefed Gen. Petraeus on Pakistani military operations against insurgents in its border regions. According to the statement, both sides “stressed the need for enhanced cooperation to eliminate the scourge of terrorism.”

A military statement said Gen. Petraeus met with Gen. Kayani and the chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Tariq Majid.

It gave no indication of what message Gen. Petraeus delivered.

Gen. Majid told the U.S. delegation that the two countries needed a “consensus strategy to deal with violent extremism” that “keeps in view the local perspective,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether Gen. Petraeus addressed vows from Pakistani and Afghan leaders to seek talks with elements of the Taliban.

Gen. Petraeus, previously the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, has indicated support for efforts to reach out to members of the Taliban considered moderate enough to cooperate with the Afghan government.

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