By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) - The Obama administration wants to pursue broader military ties with Pakistan to help Islamabad combat a growing threat from militant groups including the Taliban, a Pentagon official said on Tuesday.
Michele Flournoy, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, said Washington wants to provide the Pakistani army with training and advice on counterinsurgency tactics developed in Iraq and Afghanistan and support ongoing operations with intelligence and other assistance.
"We need to substantially increase our military assistance and broaden the form," she said at a forum hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"If we could get beyond a transactional sort of equipping, support, reimbursement relationship to a strategic relationship where we are also training, advising, working together on the ground ... we would be much more effective and get a lot farther down the road of achieving our common objectives."
U.S. officials have long been eager to provide counterinsurgency training for the Pakistani army but have been largely rebuffed by army leaders reluctant to shift away from a conventional military posture aimed at countering any threat from arch rival India.
Pakistani leaders are also wary of close, high-profile cooperation with the U.S. military, fearing it could fuel anti-American sentiment in the country.
The Pentagon instead has begun a training program for Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a smaller paramilitary force operating in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Flournoy’s comments come as the Obama administration moves to implement a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that stresses military action against insurgents combined with economic and social development initiatives in areas where militants hold sway.
The new U.S. plan effectively seeks a new "strategic partnership" between Washington and Islamabad, she said. "We need a fundamental shift in this relationship for things to work."
U.S. officials want Pakistan to step up military operations to eradicate safe havens for militant groups like al Qaeda that serve as bases for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.
Afghan and U.S. officials have recently expressed concern over a decision by Pakistan to accept Taliban demands and impose Islamic law on the Swat valley, where militants have gained ground.
"Ultimately, these groups will take advantage (of the Swat deal)," Flournoy said. "They are not reconcilables for the most part. I think they need to be dealt with in a consistent and concerted way."