Mullen Stands by His Pakistan Comments

In a series of media interviews conducted prior to his stepping down today as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen didn’t retreat from his critical comments of Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani Network.

Mullen told NPR’s “Morning Edition” that he would not change “a word” of the testimony he gave to  the Senate Armed Services Committee last week when he described the Haqqani Network as “a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and that Pakistan was “exporting violence” to Afghanistan.   Mullen said, “I phrased it the way I wanted it to be phrased.”

Pakistani government officials have vehemently denied Mullen’s claims, which are seen as a reflection of the Obama administration’s growing impatience with Pakistan’s inability to shut down safe havens on Pakistan’s side of the border with Afghanistan.   The Haqqani Network uses those safe havens to launch attacks against U.S. troops inside Afghanistan and the recent series of high-profile attacks in the capital city Kabul.

When asked to comment about Mullen’s comments Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “It’s not language that I would use.”

But Mullen clarified his earlier remarks, telling NPR, “I’m not asserting that the Pak mil or the ISI has complete control over the Haqqanis.”

He added, “But the Haqqanis run that safe haven. They’re also a home to al Qaeda in that safe haven. And I am losing American soldiers. The Haqqanis are killing American soldiers. And from that perspective, I think it’s got to be addressed, which is the reason I spoke to it.”

In a separate interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that will be broadcast Sunday, Mullen said, “there are elements I think of the ISI very active with Haqqani … that is so focused on sending Taliban and insurgents into Afghanistan” from safe havens in Pakistan.

In the NPR interview, Mullen specifically said those ISI elements were providing the Haqqanis “financial support, logistic support and, actually, sort of free passage in the safe haven and those links are part of what enable the Haqqanis to carry out their mission.

“I just think those links have to be broken,” Mullen  said, adding that he didn’t believe they could be broken overnight.  “But if they’re broken, I think that fundamentally changes the viability of that safe haven and the overall strategy.”

Mullen said in both interviews that the United States and Pakistan must continue to work together to address reducing those ties and have coordinated in recent years to eliminate the safe havens.

“With respect to the ISI, we enjoy in ways a very positive relationship in some areas, we’re focused on shared interests, we’ve operated together, and from that perspective, it’s been very positive and actually improving,” Mullen told Zakaria.

Mullen said “the strategic intent here is to … focus on this like a laser, because it’s been there for a long time and unless the Pakistani leaders take action, it will continue to be there and that support will continue to be there.”