KABUL, Afghanistan, June 7, 2012 — The United States is reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan serving as a safe haven for terrorists attacking American forces in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
“We are reaching the limits of our patience, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven,” the secretary said.
Panetta was particularly incensed about the Haqqani network using the Federally Administered Tribal Area in Pakistan as a safe haven. The Haqqanis most recent outrage was an attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno in Regional Command-East. The attack on June 1 killed an American contractor and wounded dozens of service members.
Panetta spoke during a news conference with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak in the Chai House on the grounds of the Defense Ministry.
The secretary said he will continue to push the Pakistanis to deal with the Haqqani network. “We will continue to make it clear that it is an intolerable situation,” he said. “We will take whatever steps necessary to protect our forces — that’s a principle that we always stand by. To make that happen we have to have the cooperation of Pakistan to take steps to control the Haqqani threat on their side of the border.”
While there has been an uptick in attacks inside Afghanistan, the level of violence is lower than in the past, officials said. The secretary noted that there have been difficult challenges, setbacks and heartbreak. But “there is no denying the fact that we have moved closer to achieving our objectives” he said.
Both Panetta and Wardak said the Taliban has lost the momentum, and that International Security Assistance Force service members and Afghan forces have maintained pressure on the Taliban, denying them the ability to regain lost territory.
The Afghan security forces are increasing in quality as well as size — up to 352,000 shortly — and they are increasingly in the lead, officials said.
“Every day, they are improving their capability to secure the areas they are assigned,” Panetta said.
Afghan forces already provide security for more than 50 percent of the population, said officials, noting this will increase to 75 percent this year. Afghans will be in the lead in all areas by the middle of next year. This will enable U.S. and other coalition forces to evolve from conventional formations to advisory teams. All ISAF combat troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But the international community will not just let Afghanistan sink or swim. The recent NATO Summit in Chicago, Panetta said, sends a strong signal “that we have an enduring commitment to the security and stability of Afghanistan and that we will support the ANSF not just now but over the long term.”
Panetta hopes the Taliban hears this loud and clear. “The resolve of the international community to stand with Afghanistan sends a very strong message to the Taliban that we are committed to the long term in Afghanistan, we’re not going anywhere and that time not on their side,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)