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Wed 3 Dec 2008 03:19 AM

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Top US military officer travels to India, Pakistan

Trip by chairmain of Joint Chiefs of Staff part of US moves to ease tensions.

The top US military officer travelled to India and Pakistan on Tuesday as part of Washington's diplomatic efforts to ease tensions over last week's deadly attacks by militants in Mumbai, officials said.

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was expected to arrive in the South Asia region around the same time as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was due in India on Wednesday.

"The chairman intends to meet with civilian and military leaders of both nations to encourage a cooperative approach to regional security concerns in the wake of the Mumbai attacks," Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen, said by email.

"He believes the attacks, which also killed Americans, point to a growing sophistication of extremist groups that threaten the entire region." Officials declined to provide details about Mullen's trip because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The three-day rampage by 10 Islamist gunmen in Mumbai killed 183 people. Indian investigators say the militants had months of commando training in Pakistan from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group blamed for an attack on India's parliament in 2001.

Indian warned on Tuesday that a peace process with Pakistan that began in 2004 would be at risk if Islamabad did not act decisively to turn over militant fugitives believed to be hiding in Pakistan.

India and Pakistan, which both possess nuclear weapons, have fought three wars and had various military standoffs since independence from Britain in 1947.

US military officials worry that rising tensions could prompt Pakistan to redeploy troops to its eastern border with India from northwestern tribal areas near the Afghanistan border where Pakistani forces are now operating against Islamist militant strongholds.

Mullen has met several times this year with the Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, to discuss the militant problem in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. (Reuters)

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