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WASHINGTON: The United States will soon have boots on the ground inside Pakistan following a decision by the Pentagon to send Special Forces, ostensibly to train Pakistani troops to meet the terrorist challenge that is threatening to destabilise the country.
An internal communication called a planning order has been issued by Admiral William Fallon, commander of the US Central Command, asking US military commanders to develop "new approaches" to help Pakistan combat terrorism, senior defense officials revealed in a background briefing on Wednesday.
"New approaches" appeared to be a euphemism for covert US intervention in Pakistan where anti-American sentiment is high. AP reported that the program envisages a timeline stretching to 2015.
US officials put plenty of gloss on the intervention plan to save Pakistan's face, saying a central assumption in the approach is that no such US training contribution would be made without the Pakistani government's prior approval.
But they have also indicated that Pakistan has accepted the new US plan, having left Washington with little choice as its vaunted military ceded territory to Al Qaeda and Taliban elements on its western border, amid reports of troop desertion and surrender.
Details of the US plans were not revealed but Admiral Fallon has been in Pakistan this week holding talks with Pakistan's new army supremo Ashraf Kiyani, even as it's "President" Gen. (Retd) Musharraf is on an eight-day tour of Europe.
US officials are now letting it be known that they have Kiyani's green signal for the operation, even as Musharraf has been protesting any direct US action. Before leaving for Pakistan, Fallon cryptically said US assistance will now be "more robust" and Pakistan had shown greater willingness to accept that help.
Publicly, US officials are repeating ad nauseum that US forces would go to Pakistan only with the approval and at the invitation of the Pakistani government, and their mandate would be strictly to train the Pakistani military in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operation.
But the real motive - hand's on monitoring and control -- is evident from the fact that such training could be imparted any other place, including in the United States itself, as it happens in the case of joint exercises between India and the US.