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Pakistan appoints new chief for its premier spy agency, names new senior military officers

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's military on Monday named a career army officer with experience of battling militants to head the country's premier intelligence agency as Islamabad struggles to combat a homegrown Islamic insurgency.

Maj. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general to head the spy agency, which is known as the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, the army said in a statement.

Akhtar, who previously headed a Pakistani paramilitary force in the southern city of Karachi, replaces Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam. He also has experience commanding troops in Pakistan's tribal regions, home to a mix of local and al-Qaida linked foreign militants.

Pakistan's new spy chief has attended the U.S. Army War College, where he did his research paper on the subject of "US-Pakistan Trust Deficit and The War on Terror."

Both the military and the ISI wield tremendous power in Pakistan, even after a successful first ever transition to civilian power last year.

PHOTO: In this undated handout photo released by Pakistan's rangers, Maj. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, right, walks with Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistan's army on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, named a new chief to head the country's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is also known by its acronym ISI. (AP Photo/Pakistan Rangers)
In this undated handout photo released by Pakistan's rangers, Maj. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, right, walks with Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistan's army on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, named a new chief to head the country's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is also known by its acronym ISI. (AP Photo/Pakistan Rangers)

The spy agency, which officially is meant to report to the prime minister, commonly follows positions taken by the military command.

The army also promoted five other officers to the rank of lieutenant general to replace officers who will retire next month.

The changes remove most of the top officers appointed by the last army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Kayani had opted not to launch a major military offensive in country's North Waziristan tribal region despite repeated recommendations from Washington. The man who replaced him as army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, did that in mid-June.

The United States had long pushed for a military operation against militants in North Waziristan because it was home to insurgent groups such as the al-Qaida affiliated Haqqani network that for years carried out attacks against American troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Senior U.S. military officials in the past have said there was a relationship between the ISI and the Haqqanis.

The military has said that more than 1,000 militants have so far been killed in the operation, a number which can't be independently verified.

The Pakistani army said airstrike carried out on Monday by the air force had killed 23 militants.

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