WASHINGTON: The Pentagon expressed confidence on Thursday that Pakistan would mount an offensive in North Waziristan, a key Taliban stronghold bordering Afghanistan, but said Islamabad would decide on the timing.
US President Barack Obama dispatched White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones and CIA director Leon Panetta to Pakistan earlier this week to urge the government there to step up pressure on the Pakistani Taliban following a botched May 1 car-bombing in New York’s Time Square.
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a Pentagon press conference, said Washington’s focus was on seeing “how can we intensify our cooperation in dealing with this mutual threat” rather than on pushing for any “qualitative change” in Pakistan’s approach.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Kiyani had “indicated” to him more than a year ago that he had “plans to execute that mission” in North Waziristan. But Mullen said the timing was “really up to him (Kiyani)” and the United States understood that the Pakistani military was already “stretched” by operations in other tribal areas.
“He’s got two fronts. He’s got a military that’s lost a lot of soldiers, sacrificed a great deal, and so that it makes a lot of sense to me that he does get to pick this timeline,” Mullen said. “When I have dealt with him in the past, what he has said he would do in the future, he’s always done.”
Gates estimated that Pakistan already had seven divisions and 140,000 troops in and around the tribal areas, calling it a “huge effort.”
US investigators believe accused Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who was born in Pakistan and became a US citizen last year, received assistance from the Pakistani Taliban movement. Gates said the growing reach of the Pakistani Taliban - from attacking the government in Islamabad to plotting a car-bombing in Times Square – showed that “we now have a mutual interest in trying to stop this group — stop it from carrying out attacks inside Pakistan, stop it from carrying out attacks outside of Pakistan, and especially in the United States.”
More in KP & FATANo decision on fresh offensive: FO