Sparks fly as U.S., Pakistan spar over Afghan bloodshed

Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:52pm GMT

By Missy Ryan and John Chalmers

WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer accused Pakistani intelligence on Thursday of backing violence against U.S. targets including the American Embassy in Afghanistan, a stunning remark that fuelled a war of words and seemed certain to deepen tensions in South Asia.

Admiral Mike Mullen said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) played a role in the September 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, supporting militants known as the Haqqani network.

That network, he said, is a "veritable arm" of the ISI.

The embassy attack was the latest in a series of violent episodes that were a blow to U.S. efforts to bring the Afghan war to a peaceful close.

Pakistan's interior minister rejected the U.S. accusations of Islamabad's links to the Haqqanis, one of the most feared insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan.

The minister, Rehman Malik, also warned against a unilateral U.S. ground attack on the Haqqanis, who are based in Pakistan's ungoverned tribal territories.

"The Pakistan nation will not allow the boots on our ground, never. Our government is already cooperating with the U.S. ... but they also must respect our sovereignty," Malik said in an interview with Reuters.

The harsh words appear to represent a new low in U.S.-Pakistani relations, which had barely begun to recover from the unannounced U.S. Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May.   Continued...

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen attend a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington September 22, 2011.    REUTERS/Jason Reed
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