WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials pressed Pakistan on Friday to sever ties with the Haqqani militant network, renewing charges that Islamabad's spy agency supported the Taliban-affiliated group in attacks on American targets.
Brushing aside denials from Islamabad, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Haqqani network, which operates from safe havens in Pakistan, was responsible for the recent assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as well as other attacks that had killed American troops.
"It is critical that the government of Pakistan break any links they have and take strong and immediate action against this network so that they are no longer a threat to the United States or to the people of Pakistan, because this network is a threat to both," Carney said.
His remarks came a day after Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, said in Senate testimony that the attack on the embassy in Kabul was carried out by the Haqqanis with support from Pakistan's ISI military intelligence agency.
While the ISI has long been thought to use extremist groups to further its political interests in the region, Mullen's public charge was the most serious the United States has leveled against Pakistan.
Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Mullen's comments were unproductive and "not based on facts."
Mullen's spokesman Captain John Kirby, said the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff "stands by what he testified to yesterday in front of the Senate."
He said Mullen's remarks were deliberate and followed a summer in which the Haqqani network's attacks had become "more brazen, more aggressive, more lethal" and evidence had become more available of ISI backing.
"We are confident that the ISI continues to support and even encourage Haqqani-initiated attacks," said Kirby, who declined to give the details on the intelligence.
Kirby said Mullen made it clear the U.S. military believes the ISI has supported the Haqqanis and other extremist groups, including the Taliban's Quetta Shura. Asked if it was possible U.S. aid had been used to support the U.S. Embassy attack, Kirby said, "That's a question you should ask the ISI."
Kirby and Pentagon spokesman George Little both indicated the U.S. military maintained an open line of communication with Pakistan's military and wanted to build better ties.
"That in large measure depends on their willingness and their ability to disconnect themselves from extremist groups like the Haqqani," Kirby said.
(Reporting by David Alexander and Alister Bull; Editing by Doina Chiacu)