WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- In the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the U.S. Defense Department is assessing what assistance to give to Pakistan.
Critics say the increasingly volatile situation on the ground in Pakistan is largely due to crumbling political support of President Pervez Musharraf and recently elevated extremist activity in the country's tribal areas near the Afghanistan border, the Pentagon reported.
"The character of the fight in Pakistan has changed to some extent, and it is more focused inward, and we're watching that very carefully," Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James Cartwright said in a statement. "Is it a threat that the Pakistanis are ready to handle? Do they need help? Do they need training help? Do they need other types of help? That's what we're trying to assess right now."
The largely ungoverned rugged tribal areas have become a safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaida despite increased pressure from the United States on Musharraf's military operations. Militants have repeatedly targeted Pakistani soldiers and police with suicide attacks, roadside bombs and kidnappings.
"We're assessing what value we could have, or any other ally could have, in contributing to their security," Cartwright said. "But they're a sovereign nation. They have to make those decisions. And we will stand by and be available, particularly for those things that we might do in the way of training or in helping them in shortfalls."
Officials say U.S. military assistance to the region is under consideration by Defense Department but an official request from Musharraf has not been made.