NATO commander distances himself from US missile strikes

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Islamabad, Nov 14 (UNI) General David McKiernan, the Commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, has distanced himself from drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas and vowed to maintain pressure on militants during winter.

The allied forces' commander, during a briefing to a select group of Parliamentarians at the residence of US Ambassador Anne W Patterson yesterday, said he had nothing to do with the missile attacks being carried out by drones.

Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying that he could not speak on this issue as ''these drones do not come under my command''.

The briefing was attended by lawmakers from Pakistan Muslim League-N, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan People's Party, PML-Q and National People's Party.

The US general said his forces had chalked out a plan to ''maintain pressure'' on militants during winter, adding ''Pakistan and Afghanistan are suffering from instability.'' He appreciated the role of the tripartite commission comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and Isaf. The US commander praised Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and said he had a ''good understanding'' with him.

In reply to a question about withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan, Gen McKiernan said, ''It is up to the political leadership to decide.'' He said that there was a strong nexus between the Taliban, Al Qaeda, drug mafia and foreign fighters.

He made a presentation by using slides on a projector. According to the sources, the Isaf commander had specially flown to Islamabad for the briefing.

The briefing, arranged by the US embassy without involving the Pakistan's Foreign Office and military authorities, drew criticism from religious parties.

Jamaat-i-Islami's Senator Prof Khurshid Ahmed, who was also invited to the briefing, boycotted it. He termed it against ''the best traditions of diplomatic and political dialogue.'' Leader of the House in the Senate, Raza Rabbani, also criticised the US embassy and said it had bypassed the Foreign Office in arranging the briefing. He expressed hope that the FO would take up the matter at an appropriate forum.

Senator Khurshid informed the US ambassador about his decision to boycott the briefing through a letter. ''It would not be possible for me to attend this programme not only because the notice is too short, but also because I feel uncomfortable about a NATO commander briefing the Parliamentarians at the residence of the US ambassador.

It is not clear what exactly prompted the US commander to visit Islamabad for the briefing, but it is believed that the language of the resolution adopted unanimously at the in-camera joint sitting of Parliament last month has impelled the US general to explain NATO's position on the drone and missile attacks.

UNI XC RJ RN1000

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