WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2008 – While things are tense and dangerous in Pakistan, “that doesn’t mean the sky is falling,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen offered the reassurance during a Pentagon news conference. He said the cross-border fire incident yesterday into Afghanistan does not mean America should over-react.

A Pakistani military border checkpoint fired on two U.S. Kiowa helicopters flying inside Afghan airspace, NATO and U.S. officials said. A ground-based American patrol then exchanged fire with the checkpoint, they said.

The chairman urged calm during the tense situation. “It’s time to recognize that we all – Pakistani, Afghan, American and others in the region – share a stake in a safe and secure Pakistan,” he said.

Mullen said he believes all concerned can work out the problems.

The Pakistanis face a growing and increasingly lethal insurgency on the border and inside their country, the chairman said. The Taliban and al-Qaida groups threaten the security of Pakistan’s newly elected government, and the leaders are aware of this threat, he said.

“They are dealing with extremist safe havens in the (Federally Administered Tribal Area), many of which are sheltered by local tribesmen,” Mullen said. “And like so many other nations around the world, they confront economic woes that undercut their efforts to improve living conditions for their citizens.”

Mullen has visited his Pakistani counterpart, Army Gen. Parvez Kayani, half a dozen times this year.

“Despite the violence of the last few days, it’s why I remain convinced that Pakistan’s military leaders understand the nature of the threat and are working hard to eliminate it,” he said.

But this will take time, Mullen said.

“We’ve learned ourselves you don’t take an Army that was built to fight a conventional war and turn it into an effective counterinsurgency force overnight,” he said. “And you don’t defeat extremists or their ideologies solely with military power.”

The Joint Staff is working with other agencies on a review of U.S. military strategy for the entire border region, “not simply to identify problems, but to find multilateral solutions,” Mullen said.

The chairman was encouraged by Afghan Defense Minister Wardak’s suggestion for a joint Afghan-Pakistani force to patrol the border.

“Though much would need to be flushed out, it is precisely that sort of cooperation we need,” he said. “Quite frankly, I believe some of the best solutions we may find are those not tied to military power but rather to economic aid and assistance and other whole-of-government approaches.”

All sides realize that no one gains from misunderstandings, harsh rhetoric or open conflict, Mullen said.

NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan cooperate in the Tripartite Meetings at the highest levels all the way to liaison between company level officers, Mullen said. The Afghans, Pakistanis and NATO are establishing five border cooperation centers to help eliminate the confusion. One is operating in Nangahar province, Afghanistan, and four more are scheduled for other spots on the border.

Mullen and Kayani have discussed the continuing commitment to reduce conflicts.

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