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U.S. Commander Petraeus Arrives In Pakistan For Talks

U.S. General David Petraeus

U.S. General David Petraeus

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- The U.S. commander running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has arrived in Pakistan for talks with government and military officials, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

His visit to Pakistan, his first foreign tour since taking charge of U.S. Central Command on October 31, highlights growing concern in the United States about a country seen as crucial to bringing stability to neighboring Afghanistan and defeating Al-Qaeda.

Analysts in the United States say nuclear-armed Pakistan is facing a major threat from Islamist militants at a time when the country and its new civilian government are engulfed in extraordinarily difficult economic problems.

Petraeus is being accompanied by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher.

"They are here for previously scheduled meetings with government and military officials," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor.

Pressing Issues

The Defense Ministry said the two Americans would meet Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar on November 3.

Petraeus is also due to meet Pakistan's Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, a military spokesman said. Officials have not confirmed talks with President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The most pressing problems for Petraeus, hailed as an outstanding military leader for helping pull Iraq back from the brink of all-out civil war, include rising insurgent violence in Afghanistan and sanctuaries for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants across the border in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal lands.

The United States and NATO are losing ground against an escalating Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, despite the presence of 64,000 Western troops, while Al-Qaeda has regained strength in Pakistan's tribal region.

Crossborder Strikes

His visit comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan show increasing strains after a series of crossborder strikes by U.S. forces on militant targets in Pakistan.

Pakistan, which is battling militants on its side of the border, strongly objects to the U.S. strikes. It says the attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and undermine efforts to isolate the militants and rally public opinion behind the unpopular campaign against militancy.

The United States has shrugged off Pakistan's protestations. It says the attacks are needed to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and kill Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who threaten them.

About 20 people, including militants, were killed in the latest U.S. missile strikes on two violence-plagued border regions, North and South Waziristan, on October 31.