US losing patience with Pakistan: Panetta
Flanked by Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, the visiting secretary alleged the Haqqani network -- blamed for a string of deadly attacks on Afghan and foreign troops -- had safe havens in the North Waziristan tribal region.
Asking Islamabad to initiate concrete action against the Al Qaeda-linked group, Panetta said: “It’s an increasing concern that Haqqani safe havens still exist across the border...We are reaching the limits of our patience here.”
The Obama administration would mount diplomatic pressure on Pakistan on the issue of terrorist sanctuaries, he said, urging the ally in the war on terror to adopt effective measures to ensure security for Afghanistan and the foreign troops stationed there.
At last month’s NATO summit in Chicago, a number of countries had promised assistance to Afghan forces in terms of training and equipment, he recalled. “The US plans to train Afghan forces and cooperate with Afghanistan over the longer haul.”
Speaking on the occasion, Gen. Wardak said the Afghanistan-US strategic cooperation agreement had sent a clear message to militants that the international community would not leave the conflict-torn country alone.
“We are trying to be able to conduct independent security operations by 2014,” the minister said, stressing that quality was far more important than numbers to Afghan forces in the prevailing circumstances.
Without giving an exact dtae, the minister revealed that 146 planes, including 59 Russian-made helicopters, would be purchased soon to strengthen the nascent Afghan Air Force.
Wardak announced a massive, Afghan-led counterinsurgency operation would be launched in July. A number of recent offensives were led by local security forces, he concluded.
At the Kabul International Airport, Panetta told foreign troops: "We have every right to self-defence and we are going to make it clear that we are prepared to take them on and we’ve got to put pressure on Pakistan to take them on as well.”
The secretary said he would meet top US commander Gen. John Allen on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ability to deal with threats both from Taliban and the Haqqani network.
He acknowledged a recent increase in violence, saying Wednesday’s twin suicide suicide assaults that killed 23 people outside the largest NATO base in Kandahar was "much more organised than we've seen before".
Confident that the NATO-led troops would accomplish the mission in Afghanistan, he said US commanders had put a very good plan in place and Afghans worried about the withdrawal should know that they would not be abandoned.
During an interaction with journalists on board his plane, Panetta said he would review the current situation in Afghanistan, discuss security matters with Gen. Allen.
He arrives a day after Afghanistan witnessed one of the deadliest attacks on civilians, including a NATO airstrike and three suicide attacks, killing nearly 40 people.
About 130,000 ISAF troops are currently based in Afghanistan. By the end of this year, 23,000 US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan, while the remaining 68,000 are expected to pull out of the country gradually after 2012.
Before arriving in Kabul, Panetta visited New Delhi where he asked Indian leaders to increase assistance to Afghanistan after 2014 – when all NATO forces are slated to leave the country.
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