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WASHINGTON — Though July is less than one month away, the U.S. still has no plan to begin reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said Thursday.

War commander Gen. David Petraeus has not handed in his recommendation to President Barack Obama.

“It’s still really in his hands,” Mullen said, though he expected the decision-making process to move forward “pretty rapidly” to meet the president’s deadline.

So far, senior leaders have spent more time discussing that process than the number of troops in the July drawdown, he said.

“We don’t know what the answer is. I can honestly say nobody knows what the answer is at this particular point in time, and in the end this is a decision for the president and nobody else.”

Mullen visited Pakistan last week, where he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other officials.

The trip was the most significant effort by senior U.S. officials to smooth relations and calm rhetoric in Pakistan since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said “humiliated” Pakistan’s military.

“They’re going to have to get through that,” Mullen said. “And I think you need to give them a little time and space to do that. That makes all the sense in the world to me. ... It’s not time to hammer each other.”

Mullen, in an hourlong session with defense reporters, said it was too soon to know how bin Laden’s death has affected anything, but defended his years of work to build a relationship with Kayani, and said that he feels any diminishing of U.S. relations with Pakistan’s military would be “the worst thing to do.”

Without knowing each other, he said, working through the post-raid fallout would have been “impossible.”

“It’s a country whose sovereignty is as precious to them as ours is to us,” he said. “And we have to remember that as we deal with them.”

Returning to the 1990s era of no military relations, he warned, would mean the U.S. would be back 10 years from now to face an even more dangerous situation in the region.

“We’re just not living in a world where we can afford to be unengaged in a place like this,” he said.

Pakistan remains under pressure to step up offensive operations along its Afghan border, particularly against the Haqqani terrorist network in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis have put up a continued fight against American forces in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces and “right up against Kabul.”

Mullen said Kayani agreed to do more to fight the extremists, including joint counterterrorism operations with the U.S.

But he also said some Haqqani fighters may be open to reconciliation.

“I don’t count out the fact that that’s a possible path as well,” Mullen said.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter:@StripesBaron

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