U.S. losing patience with Pakistan, says Panetta

KABUL Thu Jun 7, 2012 5:58pm EDT

1 of 5. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (C) speaks with US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker (R) and Commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) General John Allen during a meeting in Kabul June 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Watson/Pool

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KABUL (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan because of the safe havens the country offered to insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan.

It was some of the strongest language by a senior U.S. official to describe the strained ties between Washington and Islamabad.

"It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan," said Panetta.

"It is very important for Pakistan to take steps. It is an increasing concern, the issue of safe haven, and we are reaching the limits of our patience."

He was speaking in the Afghan capital Kabul where he held talks with military leaders amid rising violence in the war against the Taliban.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also implicitly defended Washington's use of drone strikes against suspected militants, just days after one of them killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda's second-ranking leader, in northwest Pakistan.

"We will always maintain our right to use force against groups such as al Qaeda that have attacked us and still threaten us with imminent attack," Clinton said in Istanbul at a meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a U.S.-and Turkish-chaired group.

Pakistan has termed the attacks as illegal and a violation of its sovereignty. The United States has long pushed Islamabad to do more to help in the war against militancy.

Panetta urged Pakistan to go after the Haqqani militant network, one of the United States' most feared enemies in Afghanistan, and said Washington would exert diplomatic pressure and take any other steps needed to protect its forces.

"It is an increasing concern that safe havens exist and those like the Haqqanis make use of that to attack our forces," he said.

"We are reaching the limits of our patience for that reason. It is extremely important for Pakistan to take action to prevent (giving) the Haqqanis safe havens, and for terrorists to use their country as a safety net to conduct attacks on our forces."

Panetta blamed the group for an attack last week on a U.S. base in the east in which several insurgents, including some wearing suicide vests, used rocket-propelled grenades.

The attack was foiled, but it underlined the challenge facing Western and Afghan forces in the east where insurgents take advantage of the steep, forested terrain and the Pakistani border to launch attacks and then slip back, commanders say.

"What happened the other day in Salerno is an indication that they are going to continue to come at us and, let me be clear, anybody who attacks US soldiers is our enemy and we are going to take them on. We have got to be able to defend ourselves," Panetta told U.S. troops earlier at Kabul airport.

Washington appears to be looking to other allies in the region for help in the face of Pakistan's foot-dragging. Panetta arrived in Kabul after a visit to India, Pakistan's old enemy, where he urged New Delhi to take a more active role in Afghanistan.

LAND ROUTES

NATO has signed an agreement with three countries to the north of Afghanistan for land routes as the U.S.-led alliance begins a withdrawal of its forces from the country next year.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier this week the "reverse transit" deal was signed with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Pakistan closed the shorter and cheaper routes through its territory last year to protest against a cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Discussions to reopen the Pakistan routes have stalled.

Resupplying troops in Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network is about two and a half times more expensive than shipping items through Pakistan, a U.S. defense official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States wants Pakistan to launch a full-scale offensive in the North Waziristan border region to go after the Haqqani group, which is close to the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda.

"We have made that clear time and time again, and will continue to make clear, that it is an intolerable situation to have those people attacking our people, our forces and to have the convenience of being able to return to safe havens in Pakistan," Panetta said.

Pakistan has strong traditional links with the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups. Islamabad denies that it uses them as proxies to gain leverage in Afghanistan ahead of any settlement to the war, or in case a civil war breaks out after most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

Anti-American feelings runs deep over issues like drones, and with a general election expected in early 2013, no politician will want to be seen as soft on the Americans.

U.S. President Barack Obama will have to look tough against militancy during an election year in the United States.

(Writing by Michael Georgy and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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Comments (28)
BajaArizona wrote:
Pakistan has been a failing state for a very long time. Soon it will be a failed state. The prospect is terrifying. 173 million people living in a nearly lawless country whose military produces approximately 20 nukes per year and whose efforts to keep those nukes secure are dreadfully sloppy. Today Pakistan may represent the greatest single threat to world civilization. It is difficult to see how Pakistan’s society can avoid all out civil war along religious and tribal sectarian lines and/or war with any number of other countries including India, Afghanistan or even the United States. I do not hate Pakistanis, nor do I wish for their country’s destruction. It can truthfully be said that past actions of global and regional powers have done harm to Pakistan, including the British Empire, India, the Soviet Union, and the United States, among others. However, ultimately their failure as a nation is mostly a result of their inability as a society to accept responsibility for their own failings. They have played the xenophobic demagoguery card for generations instead of looking inward and working together to effect progress. And the resulting disaster will not only bring ruin to themselves, but to millions of lives of innocent non-Pakistanis as well.

Jun 07, 2012 4:39am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BradArnold wrote:
It is difficult to see what significance “losing patience” with Pakistan will have on our current relationship. We are giving over a billion dollars to a failed state with a massive armory of nuclear weapons, which has consistently supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, the destabilization of Afghanistan and India, and worse of all obstructs the transiting supplies to our troops stationed in the region. Frankly, the Obama administration is only paying lip service to any retaliation, because if we stop supporting Pakistan, predictably Pakistan will destabilize and it’s nuclear weapons could very well fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. In for a penny, in for a pound, regardless of what whining and false threats Panetta whispers to the press. A perfect example of a failed strategy taking on a life of it’s own.

Jun 07, 2012 4:54am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Tiu wrote:
America has more in common with Pakistan that it would like to admit to.
They are both feudal societies, one’s just slightly more sophisticated than the other.
They are both led by a corrupt and in-bred ruling class.
They both have no regard for their citizens, neighbors or humanity outside of their in-bred communities.

Jun 07, 2012 4:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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