Washington, D.C. (AP) - The United States and Pakistan have agreed to limit the number of American troops in that country, amid frayed relations between the two nations and a struggle to repair them, U.S. officials told The Associated Press Tuesday.
The presence of U.S. forces inside Pakistan is highly unpopular there, and became more so following the U.S. military raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
According to U.S. and Pakistani officials, the new compromise pact slashes the number of U.S. forces allowed in Pakistan to between 100 and 150, nearly half of what it has been in the past. The number of special operations trainers would fall from 140 to fewer than 10.
Allowing any elite trainers to stay suggests a bit of a thaw in the icy relationship. Only a few months ago Pakistan demanded that all the trainers as well as other U.S. forces leave the country.
Officials described the agreement on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. And they said there could be changes to the totals over time.
The pact reflects the volatile nature of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship over the last several years, as Islamabad expresses its ongoing anger with American drone strikes into the country, and fury over the special operations raid that killed bin Laden in May.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a blunt assessment of the relationship Tuesday, saying he addressed the issue "very strongly" last Friday night with his Pakistani counterpart, Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
"It was the heart of the discussion, that the proxy connection to the ISI (of) the Haqqanis, working across border, killing our people, killing Afghans, has to stop," Mullen told Pentagon reporters during a press briefing Tuesday. "That's not a new message. But it's one that he clearly understands. And I think it's one we have to keep reiterating."
American officials believe that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, continues to have strong ties to Taliban and al-Qaida linked militants, including the Haqqani network. The Haqqanis are one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan stability, and are responsible for plotting and launching attacks from Pakistan across the border against U.S. and coalition forces.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta added that the Pakistani's have to understand that they must be against all terrorists, not just some.
"Our biggest concern right now is to put as much pressure as possible on the Pakistanis to exercise control from their side of the border," Panetta said Tuesday. "We've continued to state that this cannot happen, we cannot have the Haqqanis coming across the border, attacking our forces, attacking Afghanistan ... and then disappearing back into a safe haven. That is not tolerable."
Pakistani leaders see the U.S. military actions inside Pakistan as violations of its sovereignty. But U.S. leaders say that unless Pakistan goes after insurgents within its own borders who are attacking and killing American troops, the U.S. will act on its own.
Panetta and other senior U.S. leaders have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Pakistan in recent days, putting verbal pressure on the reluctant government to deal with the Haqqanis.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told her Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, on Sunday that the Taliban-linked insurgents must be dealt with.
Late last week, Panetta warned that the U.S. will do what it needs to do to stop the Haqqani network attacks on U.S. forces. He would not say whether that means that the U.S. will take new military actions, but there has already been an increase in U.S. drone strikes into Pakistan's border regions.
Panetta's remarks were interpreted as a veiled warning that the U.S. may resort again to unilateral actions against the insurgents. Such criticism, however, may only damage anti-terror cooperation between the two nations, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Tehmina Janjua said.
The Haqqanis have escalated their attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan in recent weeks, including the recent 20-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Over the past several years, the U.S. has steadily increased funding for its program to train members of Pakistan's Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps, pouring millions of dollars into efforts to boost counterinsurgency efforts against militants in havens along the Afghanistan border.
The program grew from a handful of trainers and spawned plans to set up training centers, as cooperation grew between the U.S., Pakistani and Afghan troops along the border. The training helped improve communications between the allies, and also gave elite U.S. forces better access to the rugged border region dominated by al-Qaida and its militant allies.
After the bin Laden raid, however, Pakistan demanded that the trainers leave, triggering worries that it would rob the U.S. of the opportunity to build the capabilities of the ragtag frontier corps.