Washington, Oct 10 : Two senior US officials have warned that al Qaeda has expanded its influence from the tribal belt to the settled areas of Pakistan, attacking targets inside the country's capital city.
"The threat Al Qaeda poses ... has materialised over the course of last year in a more challenging way into Pakistan itself," said General David Petraeus who takes charge of the US Central Command on October 31.
The Centcom's area of responsibility includes both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
At a separate briefing for Washington-based Pakistani journalists on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher acknowledged that the United States was "quite concerned" about the situation in the settled areas of the NWFP.
"Last year, the militants were making forays into the settled areas from their bases in the tribal areas. Now the militants are doing more and more things in the settled areas. There is an obvious expansion of militants' influence in the settled areas," he said.
The two officials, however, disagreed on the importance of the Afghan peace talks in Saudi Arabia last week which enabled Afghan officials and Taliban representatives to talk to face-to-face for the first time since the US invasion in 2001.
"If there are people who are willing to reconcile (with the Afghan government), then that would be a positive step in some of these areas that have actually been spiralling downward," said General Petraeus.
General Petraeus said negotiations with insurgents willing to consider reconciliation could reduce violence by isolating hard-core militants, which is what occurred in Iraq's Anbar province when Sunni tribesmen joined US forces against al Qaeda.
The two officials, however, had more in common in their assessment of the situation in Pakistan. Both see Al Qaeda spreading its tentacles into Pakistan but also trust the Pakistani government's commitment to fight the terrorists.