US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday that the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan over Haqqani network attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan “has to take action” against safe havens used by the Haqqani network in its semi-autonomous tribal belt, Panetta told a news conference in Kabul. “We are reaching the limits of our patience here,” Panetta added.
He singled out the Haqqani network, a Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked faction based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal district of North Waziristan.
“It’s an increasing concern that Haqqani safe havens still exist on the other side of the border. Pakistan has to take action from allowing terrorists in their country to attack our forces on the other side of the border,” he said.
“We are reaching the limits of our patience here,” he added.
Afghan and U.S. officials blame the Haqqani network for some of the deadliest attacks of the 10-year war, including a brazen 18-hour assault on Kabul in April.
Panetta said that in talks with Pakistan, the United States had made “very clear, time and time again,” the need to crack down on Haqqani militants.
His remarks came on the heels of remarks he made in India where he said the U.S. would not stop drone strikes on targets in Pakistani territory over Islamabad's objections.
Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to launch a major offensive against the network in North Waziristan, arguing that it is too overstretched in the fight against local Taliban to take on an enemy that poses no threat to Pakistan.
Independent analysts have suggested that Pakistan is not capable of defeating the Haqqanis, a well-organized and disciplined force that can command thousands of fighters.
Meanwhile, Panetta told troops in Afghanistan that the decade-long war was at “a turning point,” as Kabul reacted with fury to a NATO air strike that killed up to 18 civilians.
The United States, which leads 130,000 NATO troops fighting a Taliban insurgency, is planning to withdraw the bulk of combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for security to the Afghans.
Panetta also referenced a residual force the Pentagon intends to keep in Afghanistan after the pullout date.
The post-2014 role, the size of which is yet to be determined, would include fighting “terrorism” and training and advising, he said.
“We’ve lost a lot people in battle... We’ve got to make damn sure they didn’t die in vain.”