Top Pentagon Official Refutes Mullen Statement on Pakistan

| Wed Sep. 28, 2011 5:15 PM EDT
Admiral Mike Mullen meets with Pakistani General Khalid Shameem Wynne in Rawalpindi in April.

It was all a big misunderstanding. At least that's how US military officials are explaining away Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen's assertion that the Haqqani terrorist network operates with the support of Pakistani intelligence. Apparently, Mullen's inflammatory allegations were only "meant to imply broad assistance, but not necessarily direction by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency," the Washington Post reports:

Mullen’s language “overstates the case,” said a senior Pentagon official with access to classified intelligence files on Pakistan, because there is scant evidence of direction or control. If anything, the official said, the intelligence indicates that Pakistan treads a delicate if duplicitous line, providing support to insurgent groups including the Haqqani network but avoiding actions that would provoke a U.S. response.

"The Pakistani government has been dealing with Haqqani for a long time and still sees strategic value in guiding Haqqani and using them for their purposes," the Pentagon official said. But "it’s not in their interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a [U.S.] compound would do."

U.S. officials stressed that there is broad agreement in the military and intelligence community that the Haqqani network has mounted some of the most audacious attacks of the Afghanistan war, including a 20-hour siege by gunmen this month on the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul.

A senior aide to Mullen defended the chairman’s testimony, which was designed to prod the Pakistanis to sever ties to the Haqqani group if not contain it by force. “I don’t think the Pakistani reaction was unexpected," said Capt. John Kirby. "The chairman stands by every word of his testimony."

This kinda sorta sounds like the DoD is walking back Mullen's claims. US officials disputing Mullens statement insist that the evidence linking the Haqqani group to the ISI is "open to differences in interpretation."

Given Mullen's stature and prominence, this is a pretty serious slap in the face, and one that ignores a simple historical fact: Pakistan regularly uses extremist groups like the Haqqanis as proxies to secure its influence in Afghanistan. As one senior military official who defended Mullen explained to the Post:

"This is not new," the official said. “Can they control them like a military unit? We don’t think so. Do they encourage them? Yes. Do they provide some finance for them? Yes. Do they provide safe havens? Yes."

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