Mullen sees a ‘syndication’ of extremist groups in FATA

Mullen sees a ‘syndication’ of extremist groups in FATA
* US army chief says no firm evidence of Qaeda fighters shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan * Says timetable for US troop withdrawal from Iraq can jeopardise political progress
Daily Times, July 21, 2008

WASHINGTON/IRAQ: There has been a “joining and a syndication of various extremist and terrorist groups” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which pose an internal threat to Pakistan and cause an increased flow of fighters across the border into Afghanistan, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman (JCSC) Admiral Mike Mullen said on Sunday.

In an interview on Fox Television, Mullen, who recently visited Pakistan and Afghanistan, said there is “no firm evidence that Al Qaeda is shifting its fighters from Iraq to Afghanistan.” He said that during his visit to the region, the whole issue of FATA and safe havens for foreign fighters of Al Qaeda and the Taliban had come up. He claimed that the insurgents are now “freely, much more freely able to come across the border. They are a big challenge for all of us and will have an adverse effect on our ability to move forward in Afghanistan.” He said the concern is that a safe haven exists in Pakistan where “these fighters, these additional foreign fighters,” have shown up.

Timetable: A fixed timetable for withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq can jeopardise political and economic progress, the Associated Press quoted Mullen as saying on Sunday.

He said that the agreement between President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki to set a “general time horizon” for bringing more troops home from the war was a sign of “healthy negotiations for a burgeoning democracy”.

“I think the strategic goals of having time horizons are ones that we all seek because we would like to see US forces draw down and eventually come home,” Admiral Mullen said, adding, “This right now doesn’t speak to either time lines or timetables based on my understanding of where we are.”

The best way to determine troops’ levels, the JCSC said, was to assess the conditions on the ground and to consult with American commanders. “Based on my time in and out of Iraq in recent months, I think the conditions-based assessments are the way to go and they’re very solid. We’re making progress and we can move forward accordingly based on those conditions,” he said.

The Iraqi prime minister was quoted by a German magazine over the weekend as saying that US troops should leave “as soon as possible”. He called Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s suggestion of 16 months “the right timeframe for a withdrawal”. Mullen, asked about the possibility of withdrawing all combat troops within two years, said, “I think the consequences could be very dangerous.”

“It is hard to say exactly what would happen. I’d worry about any kind of rapid movement that would create instability. We are engaged very much right now with the Iraqi people,” Mullen said. khalid kassan/ap

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