LeT expanding influence in South Asia: US military commander

The expansion of operations of the terrorist outfit is an issue of concern for the Obama Administration, Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of the US Pacific Command, said in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Right now our concern is the movement of Lashkar-e Taiba, the terrorist group that emanates from Pakistan that was responsible for the Mumbai attacks in India, and specifically their positioning in Bangladesh and Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka," Willard said in response to a question from Senator George Lemieux.

He said the US was working "very closely with the Indians" and within to develop the necessary plans to counter LeT and its movement into the Asia-Pacific region. Asked specifically if the LeT is a regional threat or a threat to India, Willard said as of now it is predominantely a threat to India.

"We're attempting to develop a further understanding of the extent to which they're a regional threat. If you'll recall, Lashkar-e-Taiba was evidenced in Chicago with the arrest of (David) Headley," he said. "And we have certainly knowledge of their influence within the region beyond the countries that I just mentioned. The extent of that influence is what we're taking under study," he said.

Responding to a question from Senator Daniel Akaka, Willard said the military-to-military relationship with India has been evolving over the last decade and the tactical level service-to-service type interaction has also started. He said he had first hand experience of the military cooperation, some of which he witnessed while he was the 7th Fleet commander in hosting executive steering groups with his counterparts in the Indian navy.

"At the same time, we've had in the past modest exercise series with the Indians that have grown over the years to become, now, complex exercise series with the Indians," he said. Willard said as part of military-to-military exchanges, the two countries are now holding strategic-level discussions and "very complex military discussions regarding our respective advancements and our future in terms of exercising together".

Willard also referred to the growing military sales relationship with India, pointing to New Delhi's interest in acquiring US-produced military hardware. "So in my engagement with India -- and I just returned about three weeks ago from a military-to-military exchange with them -- we discussed in great detail their interest in acquiring US systems. So I would offer that not only is India now an economic and regional power, certainly in the Indian Ocean region, but it has global implications as well," Willard said.

He said India's strategic location, shared democratic values, growing economy and evolution as a regional partner and power combine make it the partner with which the US needs to work much more closely.

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