Pentagon commander says US special forces in India

US and Indian air force paratroopers at the India-US joint air exercise in Agra on 19 October 2009
Image caption US troops have been involved in training in India

US special forces are present in five South Asian countries, including India, a top Pentagon commander has revealed.

US Pacific Commander Admiral Robert Willard said the teams were deployed to help India with their counter-terrorism co-operation.

The US and India were working together to contain Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, he said.

The US embassy in Delhi clarified that the troops were not stationed in India.

A spokesman told the BBC that there were "no special forces stationed in India", as media reports had suggested.

The embassy and India's ministry of defence said a unit from the US 25th infantry division was in India to hold an exercise with Indian forces.

'Working closely'

Adm Willard said US teams were also present in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

"We have currently special forces assist teams - Pacific assist teams is the term - laid down in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, as well as India," Adm Willard told a Congressional hearing.

"We are working very closely with India with regard to their counter-terrorism capabilities and in particular on the maritime domain but also government to government, not necessarily department of defence but other agencies assisting them in terms of their internal counter-terror and counterinsurgency challenges."

Adm Willard said Lashkar-e-Taiba was a "very dangerous organisation... so it is a very important threat, and we're working very closely with the nations in the region to help contain it".

He said the group was "responsible for many attacks in India, including the horrific attacks into Mumbai, Lashkar-e-Taiba is headquartered in Pakistan, affiliated with al-Qaeda... and contributes to terrorist operations in Afghanistan and aspires to operate against Asia, Europe and North America," he said.

In the past months, the US has trained Indian counter-terrorist specialists.

The two countries have also been working to counter piracy, conduct disaster response planning and training and holding joint armed forces exercises.

In July last year, Robert Blake, US assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, said counter-terrorism co-operation with India was "a very high priority" for the US.

He said Washington was working with Delhi to ensure that "they have the best systems in place possible to prevent future attacks such as the one in Mumbai".

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