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Pakistan silent on reports of U.S. presence

Pakistan has bolstered security amid reports that U.S. troops are on their soil  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) - The Pakistani government is refusing to confirm or deny the presence of U.S. ground forces on its soil.

But in a growing sign the United States is upping the ante in its fight against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and prime terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden, Pakistani officials have admitted the country is giving "logistical support" to America.

The statement comes in the wake of media reports that say U.S. military aircraft and troops are stationed at Jacobabad airport in central Pakistan.

Reports also say that U.S. troops have been granted the use of several other air bases.

With U.S. air strikes intensifying -- Afghanistan's capital was pounded in the fifth and possibly the heaviest day of air-strikes yet by U.S.-led forces -- speculation is mounting that ground troops may not be far off.

The presence of U.S. troops and planes in Pakistan is a crucial issue for this South Asian nation, which has become a key ally to American in its fight against terror.

Pakistan has provided wide-ranging support to the United States, providing intelligence, logistical help and the use of "air corridors" for American planes on their way to carry out strikes over Afghanistan.

But the Pakistani government has stressed in the past that U.S. planes or troops can only use its soil for offensive operations "as a last resort" as it seeks to tame unrest from radical Muslim groups opposed to their involvement in the war.

No comment

Both Pakistani and Pentagon officials refuse to confirm whether U.S. planes and troops are on the ground in the South Asian nation, saying they do "not comment on ongoing operations."

Any such comments, they argue, could jeopardize the tactical planning and secretiveness of what is going on.

But they do say that no offensive combat operations are being staged from Pakistan soil, says CNN's Tom Mintier in Islamabad.

According to The Dawn, an English language newspaper in Islamabad, witnesses say at least 10 U.S. military planes and three helicopters were seen parked at Jacobabad airport.

They also saw dozens of American military personnel.

Mintier added that witnesses close to one of the bases said Pakistan troops arrived overnight and security is very tight, with many roads sealed off.

Pakistan's support to the United States is a delicate issue for President Pervez Musharaff, who has to balance protests from radical Muslim groups who back bin Laden, against support for the West.

Militant Islamic political leaders have called for jihad or holy war on the United States and condemned Musharraf for his support of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.

In recent weeks, at least five people have died in anti-American, pro-Taliban protests in Pakistan.


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