U.S. strike aggravates alliance with Pakistan
Tuesday's deadly US incursion is under investigation, but it points up the contrast between the two nations' approaches to militants along the Afghanistan border.
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The US airstrikes come as the Pakistan government tries to reach peace accords with tribal leaders in a region in Pakistan along the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, home to many of the militant groups that have given refuge to the Taliban and other groups. American officials decry Pakistan's approach, in which the government has said it will negotiate with tribal leaders in an effott to bring peace to that region. The US, which does not support negotiating with terrorists, says such peace agreements are unenforceable and in the past have led to even more violence. Militants such as Baitullah Mehsud, suspected of assassinating former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last year, operate in the region.Skip to next paragraph
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American military officials still aren't sure what to make of the incident until it is more thoroughly investigated. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, told the Monitor the US and Pakistan have agreed to a joint investigation of the incident that will generate the information needed to better assess the situation for both sides.
"Based on the information we have, it is a very well-executed mission, well within the bounds of the rules of engagement. And in fact our forces were being fired on by forces across the border, and we responded," he says.
Earlier this week, Admiral Mullen had noted the importance of "strategic patience" when it comes to US impatience over Pakistan's approach, calling it "an enormously complex problem."
"There is a thirst to solve it overnight, but we're just not going to solve it overnight," he told defense reporters Tuesday.
Mullen, who has traveled to Pakistan three times since his appointment as Joint Chiefs chairman last fall, says he has struggled to find solutions to the problem and compares groups in tribal areas there with insurgencies in other parts of the world.
Mullen expects that any attack against the US will originate in the FATA region and recognizes the need to address the violence to bring security to Afghanistan. "At the same time, we cannot have Pakistanis who support insurgents coming across the border [into Afghanistan]. That is not going to be acceptable in the long run."
The uproar over the bombings points up the difficulty for the US and Pakistan as they attempt to unite against a common enemy. For internal political purposes, Pakistan's government must be perceived by its people as standing apart from the US. But in a fight in which public perception is as important as combat operations, the different approaches Islamabad and Washington are taking to the militants don't bode well for the alliance.
Ahmad Idrees Rahmani, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul, says the incident Wednesday runs the risk of angering a critical ally but also sends an important message.
"It is good to show the Pakistanis that the US is serious when it comes to fighting terrorism," he says. "On the other hand, as you push Pakistanis to the corner to deliver more, you always have to draw a line on how far you can push."