As border tensions heighten between nuclear powers Pakistan
and India, a U.S. government team is in India to plan the possible evacuation
of 1,100 U.S. troops and up to 63,000 U.S. citizens from both countries.
India's foreign minister urged Pakistani President Pervez
Musharraf on Wednesday to honor pledges to halt terrorism in contested Kashmir
and warned of "the urgency of the situation."
The Pentagon needs no such warning.
About 1,000 U.S. troops are on three military bases in
Pakistan, and an undisclosed number of special operations forces are hunting
al-Qaeda leaders in the country's western provinces. In addition, about 100
commandos are completing a military training exercise, code-named Balance Iroquois,
with Indian forces in Agra, site of the Taj Mahal.
Officials from the State Department and the military's
Pacific Command have begun drawing up evacuation plans for 50,000 to 60,000
U.S. civilians, virtually all of them in India, a Pentagon official with access
to the plans said Wednesday.
An airlift of that magnitude would dwarf the evacuations
of Americans from Vietnam, which Washington and U.S. forces abandoned in early
1975, said a military official familiar with U.S. airlift capabilities.
State Department officials lack specific numbers of Americans
in Pakistan and India. The most recent tally comes from 1999, when the department
reported that 4,231 citizens registered with the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan and
15,369 with the embassy in India.
Few tourists or business travelers bother to contact the
embassies, and government employees are not included in the count.
On Friday, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to
avoid traveling to Pakistan and India and said Americans in the countries should
A senior Pentagon official close to war planners said the
presence of U.S. troops in Pakistan and India might be deterring war. But Indian
Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh warned Tuesday that the presence of U.S. troops
"is not an inhibiting factor" as his government considers going to war.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, including
two over the Kashmir province that each claims. Both have nuclear weapons.
The latest flare-up has stalled the hunt for al-Qaeda members,
Pentagon officials say. Asked what Pakistan was doing to find al-Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, the senior Pentagon official replied, "Not
much. We're very concerned."
Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf's spokesman, said India
"is trying to take an unfair advantage by massing troops knowing Pakistan is
fully involved in fighting terrorists."
He said "a lot" of troops were shifted to the Indian border.
Withdrawing U.S. forces from Pakistan would damage the
continuing hunt for al-Qaeda, Pentagon officials say. There are 7,200 U.S. troops
in Afghanistan, but virtually all the al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding
Contributing: Dave Moniz, Bill Nichols and Chris Woodyard
© Copyright 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.