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U.S. wants to boost training of Pakistani forces

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Pakistan will likely discuss stepping up U.S. training for Pakistani security forces when President Asif Ali Zardari visits Washington next week, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The United States has become increasingly alarmed about the threat of Taliban militants based in Pakistan’s Swat valley to Zardari’s weak government, whose support it needs to defeat al Qaeda and stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.

One proposal being considered is for the United States to offer counter-insurgency training to larger groups of Pakistani military personnel outside Pakistan, possibly in the United States or a third country, said the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They (Pakistan) in principle have agreed we need to do it. The question now is how to do it,” the official said.

Some 30 U.S. personnel have been training a few hundred members of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps since last October, said a U.S. defence official.

The effort has focussed on training trainers who can then pass on the skills they have learned more widely in the Frontier Corps, the official said. So-called “training events” have also been held with Pakistani special operations units.

But Pakistan has rebuffed U.S. efforts to train the regular army in counter-insurgency partly because the army still sees their traditional enemy of India as their main threat.

Pakistani leaders are also wary of closer cooperation with the U.S. military, fearing it could fuel anti-American sentiment domestically.

But U.S. President Barack Obama told a news conference on Wednesday that Pakistan’s army had begun to realise home-grown militants posed a bigger current threat than India, with whom it has fought three wars.

“It is in Pakistan’s interest and our interest to try to find ways to confront the threat extremists pose to the Pakistani people,” the administration official said.

The official said the proposal to expand training of Pakistan’s security forces had not been finalized and different options were being examined.

Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet separately with Obama and then have three-way talks during visits to the White House on May 6 and May 7.

U.S. lawmakers said they planned to accelerate the flow of more than $400 million (271 million pounds) in aid to Pakistan to help with counter-insurgency operations to thwart Taliban militants who last week moved within 60 miles (97 km) of Islamabad. (Additional reporting by David Morgan, editing by Alan Elsner)