NEW YORK - A senior US military commander says Pakistan has replaced Iraq as al Qaeda's main focus, and that the terror network has stepped up its efforts to destabilise the nuclear-armed country. "Iraq is now a rear-guard action on the part of al-Qaeda," General James Conway, the head of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. "They have changed their strategic focus not to Afghanistan but to Pakistan, because Pakistan is the closest place where you have the nexus of terrorism and nuclear weapons." The paper said senior US military and civilian officials have grown increasingly pessimistic about Afghanistan and Pakistan. More US troops are killed in Afghanistan each month than in Iraq, and Afghan civilian casualties have been soaring, they said. General Conway said in the interview that Pakistan's best troops were deployed along its border with India and weren't being used in the fight against the country's militants. Pakistan's leadership doesn't yet seem to accept that terrorism poses an existential risk to the country's future, he added. "Pakistan has to understand there's a dire threat there that they have to act against," he said. Gen Conway also offered a stark assessment of the Afghan situation, saying the Taliban have built a rudimentary command-and-control network that enables the group's leadership to direct attacks across the country. "They move troops around. They re-supply. They provide money," he said. "It is effective and it is real. It is not just happenstance that these guys know where to go and what to do." The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen David McKiernan, has asked for at least 20,000 additional forces, and the incoming Obama administration has signalled that it will send the reinforcements sometime next year. The influx will push US troop levels there to more than 52,000, a record. Many US officials fear that the additional American forces won't be enough to stabilise Afghanistan unless Pakistan takes stronger measures against the militants who operate in havens in its tribal areas, the newspaper said. Gen Conway said the drone attacks had killed al-Qaeda figures involved in planning attacks on targets in Europe and the US. "It is important that we keep them on the run," he said. Still, he described the strikes as a "high-wire act" that risked damaging relations. Pakistan has denounced the cross-border attacks and called on the US to stop those strikes. Gen Conway said the U.S. military needed to reorient itself in response to the changing conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq's security situation has improved so much that for the first time it "smells like victory" there, he said. The gains should clear the way for the withdrawal next year of many of the 20,000 Marines currently deployed to the country, he added. The departures, in turn, would free up additional Marines for Afghanistan, where the fighting is likely to accelerate in 2009, the paper said. The war on terror began in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Gen Conway suggested that it would need to conclude there rather than in Iraq. "I don't think there is anybody in Iraq these days planning a strike on the US," he said. "But I fear there are people in Afghanistan or Pakistan who could be doing that very thing."