Panetta: Militant havens testing limits of US patience with Pakistan

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan because of the havens the country offered to insurgents in Afghanistan.

Jim Watson/AP
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, left, speaks to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, during a meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, June 7. Panetta arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday to take stock of progress in the war and discuss plans for the troop drawdown, even as violence spiked in the south.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, paying a brief visit to the Afghan capital, said Thursday that the United States was reaching "the limit of our patience" with neighboring Pakistan's sheltering of insurgents who cross the border to attack Western troops and Afghans alike.

Coinciding with Panetta's stopover, Afghan President Hamid Karzai cut short a trip to China to signal anger and frustration over the deaths of 18 civilians in what Afghan officials said was an errant US airstrike a day earlier. Mr. Panetta had already left the country by the time Karzai returned.

Panetta's visit, his fourth as defense secretary, came as the American military presence in Afghanistan is poised to diminish considerably. By the end of the summer, another 23,000 American troops are to head home, reducing the US forces to about 68,000 personnel – a schedule that Panetta said he expected to hold.

The drumbeat of criticism of Pakistan echoed statements earlier in Panetta's nine-day Asian tour.

How well do you know Afghanistan? Take our quiz

Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been marked by rancor over an intensive campaign of US drone strikes and the continuing deadlock over a deal that would allow NATO supply convoys to transit Pakistani territory. Pakistan stopped the flow of supplies after an errant US airstrike in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the country's border with Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters, Panetta declared that the US would take action to protect its troops from attacks by Pakistan-based groups such as the Haqqani network, a Taliban offshoot.

"Let me be very clear," he said. "Anybody who attacks US soldiers is our enemy. We're not going to take it."

The recent increase in drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas has been partly an effort to inflict losses on militants responsible for mounting attacks inside Afghanistan, a senior US official said, and also to heighten pressure on the Islamabad government to deny groups like the Haqqani haven.

"We are reaching the limit of our patience, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action," Panetta told a news conference. However, the US has been calling on Pakistan for years to crack down on insurgent sanctuaries, with little result.

In just three hours on the ground, Panetta met with Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of Western forces in Afghanistan; US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who is shortly leaving his post for health reasons; and the defense secretary's Afghan counterpart, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, who appeared with him at a joint news conference.

The NATO force has been handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces, a phased process that is to be completed by 2014, when NATO's combat role ends. However, thousands of Western troops - including special operations forces and trainers for the Afghan police and army - are expected to remain in place after that.

(Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.)

©2012 Tribune Co.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to