Panetta: U.S., Pakistan Progressing in Supply-line Talks

NORTH CHICAGO, Ill., May 21, 2012 — The Unit­ed States con­tin­ues to nego­ti­ate with Pak­istan toward a res­o­lu­tion that will lead to the reopen­ing of trans­port routes that have been closed since Novem­ber to sup­plies bound for troops in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said here today.

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Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the James A. Lovell Fed­er­al Health Care Cen­ter, Panet­ta said it was a pos­i­tive sign that Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zardari attend­ed the NATO sum­mit that end­ed today.

“We still have a way to go, but I think the good news is that we are nego­ti­at­ing and that we are mak­ing some progress,” Panet­ta said.

“It is extreme­ly impor­tant that ulti­mate­ly we’re able to open up those lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­port so that we can expe­dite the assis­tance that needs to go to our men and women in uni­form who are fight­ing the bat­tle,” the sec­re­tary added.

The coun­tries’ pre­car­i­ous affil­i­a­tion rup­tured Nov. 26 when a cross-bor­der attack by NATO forces at a bor­der coor­di­na­tion cen­ter in Afghanistan’s Kunar province killed 24 Pak­istani sol­diers. Pak­istan also has protest­ed sus­pect­ed U.S. drone strikes.

At this stage, Panet­ta said, “I guess I would say that I feel a lot more pos­i­tive about the effort to try to see if we can find a res­o­lu­tion to that chal­lenge.”

Anoth­er con­tin­u­ing chal­lenge asso­ci­at­ed with Pak­istan and Afghanistan involves the Tal­iban.

“I think we under­stand that the biggest chal­lenge is a Tal­iban that is resilient, that is going to con­tin­ue to fight even though they’ve been weak­ened — and I think the lev­els of vio­lence are down — and that they’re going to con­tin­ue to con­duct attacks,” the sec­re­tary said.

Coali­tion troops and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces will have to con­front that ene­my, he said, adding that he has every con­fi­dence that the Afghan army can respond effec­tive­ly and be part of that effort.

“We are still deal­ing with a resilient ene­my that in many ways still has a safe haven in Pak­istan,” Panet­ta said. “And that, I think, rep­re­sents the great­est threat that we’re fac­ing.”

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