A long-delayed plan to send dozens of U.S. military advisors to Pakistan to train its army in counterinsurgency could begin in a matter of weeks under a new agreement on a training base, according to the top U.S. military officer.
Washington for months has urged the Pakistani military to accept the training team. Pakistan has resisted, asking for additional weaponry and equipment some U.S. officials believe is best suited for its standoff with regional rival India.
But Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the primary stumbling block had been the fact that Pakistan could not build the training site, near the western town of Peshawar, quickly enough. The two sides have agreed to use an alternative base north of the capital.
"We're still going through some administrative delays, but I do see it happening," Mullen said in an interview en route from Washington to his hometown of Los Angeles, where he plans a series of talks in coming days. "I think it's in the next few weeks."
Mullen's remarks were his first since returning Wednesday from an unannounced trip to Pakistan, his fifth since becoming chairman last year.
He said he made the latest visit because of accusations that the U.S. had violated Pakistan's sovereignty in a special operations raid this month near the Afghan border.
Pakistani officials have warned they might open fire on foreign troops that cross into Pakistani territory.
Mullen said he believed Pakistani officials were insisting on their right "to defend their country, which I understand, which anybody understands."
He added: "Clearly we have no desire to get into any kind of engagement with the Pakistani military."
Earlier, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in London emphasized the importance of strategy talks with Pakistan. Asked to identify the central front in the administration's war on terrorism, Gates said Al Qaeda's havens in western Pakistan remained a "real threat."
Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes in London contributed to this report.