KABUL (Reuters) - A video of a Pakistani Taliban leader with the bomber who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan could indicate cross-border links between Afghan, Pakistani and al Qaeda militants, the U.S. regional envoy said on Sunday.
Special Representative Richard Holbrooke told Reuters in an interview in Kabul that “shadowy but unmistakable” links between groups exposed by the video helped explain why the United States and its allies were fighting in Afghanistan.
The video released this month showed the Jordanian suicide bomber posing with Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, before carrying out the December 30 attack which killed seven CIA employees, the deadliest strike on the agency in decades.
“When people say to us, ‘why are you fighting in Afghanistan when the goal is to destroy al Qaeda and they are in Pakistan?', I think this incident highlights the explanation for what we are doing, because there are some shadowy but unmistakable connections here,” he said.
The bombing took place at a CIA base in Khost, eastern Afghanistan, where Washington says its main enemies are militants loyal to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban-allied commander who shelters across the border in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province.
The video could show “the very close links between the Haqqani group, Mehsud, al Qaeda, and it underlines the rationale for our strategy,” he said. “That was a horrifying tape.”
“They’ve all claimed credit for it,” he said of the various militant groups with some possible hand in the CIA attack.
Pakistan’s military has launched offensives against Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban, but has yet to take on Haqqani’s Afghan militants on its soil. Washington is keen to persuade Islamabad that militants on both sides of the frontier are cooperating with each other, and none should be protected.
Before coming to Afghanistan, Holbrooke visited Pakistan, where he spoke to senior military and political leaders about the security situation in the border areas.
Asked whether he had put more pressure on Islamabad to do more in border regions to rout insurgents, Holbrooke said Pakistan’s military was stretched “very thin.”
“I think they are well aware of the fact that the presence on their soil of the Afghan Taliban and its leadership is not in their own security interests. They know how important this is. They are our allies,” he added.
Islamabad has been asking for additional military assistance to fight insurgents and for the transfer of U.S. military know-how for drones and other equipment, requests that have so far been met with reluctance by the Pentagon.
“This is an immensely complicated issue and when you talk about it too much, you work against the national interests of the United States and anyone who opposes the terrorists who are still out there,” said Holbrooke when asked about this.
Over the past year, the United States has increased the number of drone attacks in the border regions, a military tactic which has met with a public backlash in Pakistan and which experts say has hurt President Asif Ali Zardari.
Several U.S. senators visiting Pakistan over the past two weeks have spoken out in favor of the drone strikes, angering Islamabad. President Barack Obama’s administration is reluctant to talk publicly about the policy for fear of inflaming tensions at a time when it wants closer ties with Pakistan.
“I am limited in what I can talk about on this subject , but sometimes policies ... have costs and benefits,” he said, asked how the drone attacks had affected U.S.-Pakistani ties.
“They have to be weighed very carefully against the national interest and against the realities. On this issue, I am not going to add fuel to the fire.”
Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton