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U.S. General In Pakistan For Talks On Equipment

U.S. General David Petraeus

U.S. General David Petraeus

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- U.S. General David Petraeus and Pakistan military leaders would discuss on August 19 expediting delivery of U.S. equipment to Pakistan so it can expand its offensive against Taliban militants, U.S. officials said.

With U.S. troop strength growing in Afghanistan, the United States wants Pakistan to eradicate Islamist militant enclaves on its side of the border and prevent Taliban fighters from crossing into Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has been battling militants in parts of the northwest for months but a commander said on August 18 the army was short of equipment, including Cobra attack helicopters, needed for a large-scale ground operation.

"It is part of a substantial effort to strengthen U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation," U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told Reuters, referring to the Patraeus visit.

Holbrooke said on August 18 that Washington was trying to expedite delivery of equipment requested by the Pakistani Army, including helicopters and parts.

Pakistan's request for equipment would "come up for sure" in talks between Petraeus and senior Pakistani military officials, Holbrooke said.

He said Pakistani Army chiefs would also provide Petraeus with their assessment of the battle in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad, after a three-month offensive in which Pakistani forces have pushed back militants.

Pakistan forces have also stepped up attacks on Pakistani Taliban fighters led by Baitullah Mehsud in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border.

Mehsud is widely believed to have been killed this month in a missile strike by a U.S. pilotless drone aircraft.

Other Factions

The United States also wants Pakistan to move against other militant factions, based in various areas including North Waziristan, which focus on battling Western forces in Afghanistan.

But a senior Pakistani commander, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Ahmed, said on August 18 Pakistan would need months to prepare for a ground offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan.

Some U.S. officials have expressed concern Pakistan will lose momentum if it puts off the offensive for too long.

"The United States continues to encourage Pakistan to apply pressure on militants in the wake of Mehsud's death," a U.S. defense official said.

Ahmed said the army was attacking militants with aircraft and artillery with the goal of "wearing them out" before ground forces go in.

But he added the army was short of "the right kind of equipment" and urged Holbrooke to help Pakistan obtain Cobra attack helicopters.

In addition to Cobras, Ahmed cited shortfalls of protective gear, intelligence-gathering and night-vision equipment, and precision weapons.

"If we can really get these shortfalls addressed promptly, the operation will be that much more effective," he said.