Pakistan has signaled its readiness to U.S. officials to deal with terrorist safe havens in response to pressure to deny sanctuary to militant groups as American forces withdraw from neighboring Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
“We are more encouraged with the fact that they want to take steps to try to limit the terrorist threat within their own country and obviously the threat that goes across the border” to Afghanistan, Panetta told reporters traveling with him to Kuwait today. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s top military officer, has “indicated a willingness to try to put more pressure on safe havens.”
While “actions have to speak louder than words, I do believe they’re in a better place because they understand the kind of threats they should deal with,” said Panetta, who arrived in Kuwait to meet with some of the 13,500 U.S. troops stationed in the Persian Gulf country.
Insurgent safe havens in Pakistan continue to pose a threat to Afghanistan’s long-term security and are preventing U.S. and allied forces from dealing a “decisive defeat” to militants in the region, the Pentagon said in a semi-annual report sent to Congress yesterday. The report provides an unclassified snapshot of the war effort in Afghanistan as the Obama administration prepares to assess how many troops will remain in the country after 2014, when most U.S. and allied forces depart.
“The Taliban-led insurgency and its al-Qaeda affiliates still operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan,” according to the report’s executive summary. “The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan.”
While visiting Kabul in June, Panetta said the U.S. had reached the “limits of our patience” with Pakistan, which harbors insurgent groups such as the Haqqani network that have attacked U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. is also trying to reach a political agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan even as it seeks to defeat it militarily, Panetta said.
The Taliban is fighting the U.S. and allied forces as well as the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
While discussions on steps to improve efforts at reconciliation have taken place with the Taliban, “it’s not easy because of the number of factions involved in the conflict,” Panetta said. “We have to at least make the effort to develop some kind of political solution as well as the military effort we are engaged in.”
Pakistan also has indicated a willingness to help in the reconciliation effort, he said.
The continuing threats to allied forces in Afghanistan were underscored over the weekend when a U.S. commando was killed in an operation that rescued Dilip Joseph, a U.S. doctor who was captured at a rural medical clinic in eastern Kabul province operated by Monitor Star Development, a nonprofit group based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Pentagon yesterday identified the commando who died as Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque, 28, of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, who was assigned to an East Coast Naval Special Warfare unit. The unit is known informally as SEAL Team Six, the commando team that participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The Pentagon report issued yesterday cites positive developments, including transferring responsibilities to Afghans, who have taken the security lead for 76 percent of the population, according to the Pentagon.
“The coalition and our Afghan partners blunted the insurgent summer offensive, continued to transition the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) into security lead, pushed violence out of most populated areas, and coalition member nations signed several international agreements to support the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan,” according to the report’s summary.
By the end of September, one Afghan brigade and about 20 kandaks, or battalions, were ranked as being capable of operating independently with advisers, according to the report.
While relations between Pakistan and the U.S. are improving, the report said, “tensions remain” one year after a November 24, 2011, cross-border incident when U.S. forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The International Security Assistance Force also faced a rise in so-called insider attacks. The attacks by Afghan soldiers on coalition forces have “the potential to adversely affect the coalition’s political landscape,” according to the Pentagon.
The report highlighted a slight increase in enemy attacks from April to September compared with the comparable six months last year because of “a shortened poppy harvest employing low- level insurgents far less than in past years.” Such enemy attacks are occurring mostly outside populated areas, the report found.
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