By Susan Crabtree - 08/09/09 01:19 PM EDT
U.S. officials believe Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA drone attack last week, President Obama’s national security adviser said Sunday.
“We think so,” Gen. James Jones told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding, “We put it in the 90 percent category.”
If Mehsud was killed, Jones said it’s an important sign of cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan in combating terrorism.
“This is a big deal,” Jones said. “…It shows a gradual coming together as a family of nations to reject terrorism. Mehsud was public enemy No. 1 in Pakistan, their biggest target."
Locating Osama bin Laden, Jones said, is a “tougher nut to crack” but indicated that U.S. intelligence officials believe he is still within the general area of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Jones also officially confirmed that the Iranian government is holding three American hikers who entered Iran from northern Iraq last week.
“The [Iranian] government has officially acknowledged that they have been in their custody,” Jones said. “We do have that confirmation.”
“We have sent strong messages that we would like these three young people turned over as soon as possible,” he said.
Former President Bill Clinton’s surprise trip to North Korea earlier this week to release the two journalists seized and jailed there was a “private mission” and unofficial in nature, Jones said.
Clinton met with the reclusive and ailing leader Kim Jong Il who issued a “special pardon” freeing Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were arrested March 17 near the China-North Korea border.
Kim appeared to be in control of his government and his faculties, Jones said Clinton had reported. During a private meeting, Clinton urged Kim to stop work on attaining nuclear weapons.
“I don’t want to speak for President Clinton, but it’s clear that he did press home the fact that if North Korea wants to rejoin the six-party talks, nuclear weapons is not the way,” he said.
On "Face the Nation," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would support an increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan as the new general there has requested.
“I’m one Republican who would support more troops in Afghanistan,” he said. “I’ll be shocked if more troops are not requested by the president…The president is right – Afghanistan is now the central war in the war on terror.”
Later, Graham, a key supporter of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, warned against repeating former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resistance to committing more troops to secure Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
“Let’s not Rumsfeld Afghanistan,” he said. “Let’s not do this thing on the cheap.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposed dedicating more troops to Afghanistan right now, arguing that it would send the wrong message to NATO allies and the Afghan army that the U.S. is all too willing to step in and provide security.
Securing and stabilizing Afghanistan is gong to take “a lot more for most things,” Levin said, but sending more troops right now would “take our NATO allies off the hook for keeping their promises and the pressure off the Afghan army.”