A senior US Defence Department official on Friday expressed concern over the alleged “role of safe havens” for the Afghan Taliban and “actors” in Pakistan, calling it a significant challenge for Washington.
Speaking at the briefing during the Pentagon’s release of a six-month report on the situation in Afghanistan, the official said he was “100 per cent” in agreement with Admiral Mike Mullen’s assessment that elements in the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have links with the Haqqani network. He also claimed that both the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban leaderships were located primarily either in the south or in the north around Peshawar.
About the US expectations from Pakistan, he said that “what we’re looking for is continued, increased cooperation with the Pakistanis on the border.”
Though the official admitted that considerable cooperation existed between Washington and Islamabad in several areas, he said there are “other areas that we’re seeking much more improvement”. “And that’s something we’ll continue to look at very closely. It’s certainly an area of strategic risk.”
The Pentagon official said the reintegration of Taliban fighters who were in Pakistan before could mitigate against a risk of those existing safe havens.
“The fact that there are people who are coming in to reintegrate and the fact that there are people — some of those people who are coming in to reintegrate are people who were in Pakistan before.” “But it’s still going to be a huge challenge,” he said.
The US is encouraging Pakistan to do everything possible to deal with safe havens for terrorists in the country, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying.
“We are encouraging Pakistan to do everything possible to deal with the safe havens…..which will also play a big role in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” Grossman told reporters after his meeting with Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao Rao.
Asked about the recent remarks of chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen accusing the ISI of backing the Haqqani network, he said, “I have nothing to add or to subtract to whatever Mullen has already said. We do a huge amount of work with Pakistan in countering terrorism and extremism and that’s what we will continue doing.”
After India, Grossman also plans to visit Kabul, Islamabad and Riyadh.
The latest Pentagon report noted that a surge of foreign troops into Afghanistan had dealt a blow to the Taliban insurgency but total violence had risen since last fall.
The increase in overall security incidents, which includes roadside bombs, direct fire and other violent acts, was due in part to the surge of foreign troops, stepped up targeting of insurgent safe havens, and mild winter weather.
“The surge in forces and an increased operational tempo have enabled (the Nato-led force in Afghanistan) to disrupt and degrade the insurgency’s capabilities, contributing to a loss of Taliban influence in key areas,” the report said.
As US President Barack Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, violence hit its highest level in 2010 since the war began almost a decade ago.
The Pentagon warned that “hard fighting” was likely ahead in 2011 as the Taliban, adapting its techniques to match intensified attacks from foreign adversaries, would try to regain areas of south Afghanistan that they had lost in 2010. They said recent intelligence reporting indicated that the attacks planned by the Taliban, supported by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other insurgents, would include suicide bombings.
Petraeus: commander in three wars?
A report in The Washington Post said that General David Petraeus, the freshly nominated CIA director, has served as commander in two wars launched by the US after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. If confirmed as the next CIA director, the paper said Petraeus would effectively take command of a third in Pakistan.
Petraeus’s nomination comes at a time when the CIA functions, more than ever in its history, as an extension of the nation’s lethal military force.
The CIA is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones.
Since Obama took office there have been at least 192 drone missile strikes. Petraeus is seen as a staunch supporter of the drone campaign.
With input from wire services and the desk
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2011.