Mullen says US stakes in South Asia vital

The United States has vital interests in South Asia and all countries should continue with their efforts to address the Afghan issue, the top US military leader, Admiral Mike Mullen, said at a Pentagon press briefing.

Mr Mullen also welcomed the recent peace talks between Pakistan and India.

“I have felt very strongly for a long time that this is a regional issue. You talked about South Asia. It really is a South Asian and regional challenge,” Mr Mullen said of the conflict in Afghanistan.

The United States “has vital interests in the region,” said Mullen, who is US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman.

“So do the countries that live there. And I think we all have to continue to work together to address these challenges or they’re going to get worse,” added Mullen, soon after his return from Afghanistan.

Responding to a query regarding a possible Indian security role in Afghanistan, Mr Mullen said he had been “actually encouraged very specifically with the discussions between Pakistan and India in recent weeks and months.”

“And at least if I understand both governments, those are going to continue, and I and I hope that they do. And I consider those to be…a very positive step.”

Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers met in New Delhi last week in a sign of reviving peace talks that broke down after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

With respect to the “threats growing in Afghanistan,” Mr Mullen said that the US clearly “had some expectation that they (Taliban) would move to these spectacular assassinations (of senior Afghan officials).”

“And we don’t we don’t dismiss them. They are very serious threats in that regard.”

The military officer said the Taliban suffered “pretty significantly” last year.

“They no longer, in many places, own the battle space, so that we expect this will continue. And that’s what they have moved to. And we’re working hard to protect certainly our forces and also provide enhanced security for the for the senior Afghan officials which are targeted here.”