Panetta, Mullen to Pressure Pakistan on Terrorism

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 — Although not yet will­ing to blame the Haqqani net­work for assas­si­nat­ing the for­mer Afghan pres­i­dent, Pen­ta­gon lead­ers empha­sized today that they will con­tin­ue to pres­sure Pak­istan to keep insur­gents there from spilling into Afghanistan.

“Our biggest con­cern right now is to put as much pres­sure as pos­si­ble on the Pak­ista­nis to exer­cise con­trol from their side of the bor­der,” Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news brief­ing with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We have con­tin­ued to state that this can­not hap­pen. We can­not have the Haqqa­nis com­ing across the bor­der attack­ing our forces and [Afghans] and dis­ap­pear­ing back into a safe haven,” the sec­re­tary said. “That is not tol­er­a­ble, and we have urged them to take steps.”

Panet­ta declined to dis­cuss spe­cif­ic strate­gies, includ­ing whether the Unit­ed States would con­sid­er uni­lat­er­al action. He did say, how­ev­er, “We are going to take what­ev­er steps are nec­es­sary to pro­tect our forces.”

It’s in the best inter­est of the Pak­ista­nis to deal with ter­ror­ists with­in their bor­ders, he said.

“Frankly, ter­ror­ism is as much a threat for them as it is for us,” he said. “And we keep telling them you can’t choose among ter­ror­ists. If you are against ter­ror­ism, you have to be against all forms of ter­ror­ism. And that is some­thing we just have to con­tin­ue to stress.”

Mullen said he made clear dur­ing his meet­ing last week with Pak­istani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani that Pak­istan needs to do more. Among issues he raised were the Haqqa­nis’ proxy ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Ser­vice Intel­li­gence agency and their role in killing coali­tion troops and Afghans in Afghanistan.

“It was the heart of the dis­cus­sion,” Mullen report­ed, empha­siz­ing that this activ­i­ty “has to stop.”

“That is not a new mes­sage, but it is one that [Kayani] clear­ly under­stands,” Mullen said. “And I think it is one we have to keep reit­er­at­ing.”

Mullen cred­it­ed the strong rela­tion­ship he and Kayani have built with help­ing them work through dif­fi­cult peri­ods between their two coun­tries. “It is going to go up and down,” he said of the U.S.-Pakistan rela­tion­ship. “We have had a very tough patch here over the last sev­er­al months.”

Based on cur­rent infor­ma­tion, Mullen said he can­not con­firm that the Haqqa­nis were behind the death of Burhanud­din Rab­bani, the senior Afghan offi­cial in charge of nego­ti­at­ing with the Tal­iban. Panet­ta called the killing of Rab­bani, report­ed­ly by a sui­cide bomber who hid explo­sives in his tur­ban, a blow to the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion process in Afghanistan.

“I regret his loss. I think he was play­ing an impor­tant role,” Panet­ta said. “I am hope­ful that we will be able to work with oth­ers to try to con­tin­ue the efforts that he was engaged in.”

The assas­si­na­tion was among oth­er recent high-pro­file attacks that Mullen said reflect an appar­ent shift in the Taliban’s over­all strat­e­gy.

“They have not suc­ceed­ed on the ground this year. Their cam­paign has failed in that regard,” he said, caus­ing them to resort to high-pro­file attacks.

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. and NATO com­man­der in Afghanistan, described last week’s Haqqani attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kab­ul an oper­a­tional fail­ure. Mullen acknowl­edged, how­ev­er, that it had strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance.

“So we take it very seri­ous­ly as a part of the cam­paign,” he said. “We know that this is what the Tal­iban is doing, and we have got to adjust and we are doing that.”

Panet­ta said the coali­tion is work­ing with the Afghans to dis­cuss ways to bet­ter pro­tect against future attacks. But the Taliban’s change of strat­e­gy, he added, shows that its lead­ers real­ize they are los­ing ground in Afghanistan.

“The bot­tom line still remains that that we are mov­ing in the right direc­tion,” Panet­ta said. “We have made progress against the Tal­iban, but we can’t let some of these spo­radic events deter us from the progress that we are mak­ing.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)