US com­mit­ted to pur­su­ing de­fence co­op­er­a­tion with Pak­istan: Panetta

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

WASHINGTON

US De­fence Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta said de­spite chal­lenges in the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship, the United States and Pak­istan share an in­ter­est in de­feat­ing ter­ror­ists and that Washington would pur­sue de­fense co­op­er­a­tion with Is­lam­abad on that com­mon ba­sis.

Speak­ing at a Washington think tank, Panetta noted that in Afghanistan and Pak­istan, pro­longed mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions have sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened al Qaeda but saw the need to main­tain pres­sure on the group.

That means de­grad­ing the ter­ror­ists’ se­nior lead­er­ship, dis­man­tling their or­gan­i­sa­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties, re­main­ing vig­i­lant to en­sure the threat does not re­con­sti­tute, and work­ing to build the ca­pac­ity of US part­ners, in­clud­ing Pak­istan, to con­front th­ese shared threats, he added.

“De­spite chal­lenges in the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United States and Pak­istan”, Panetta said, “one area in which our na­tional in­ter­ests con­tinue to align is de­feat­ing the ter­ror­ists on Pak­istan soil that threaten both of us”.

“We re­main com­mit­ted to pur­su­ing de­fence co­op­er­a­tion based on th­ese shared in­ter­est”, he said at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity.

Panetta pledged con­tin­ued US en­gage­ment with Pak­istan and a sus­tained com­mit­ment to Afghanistan in the years ahead. He ac­knowl­edged the fact that al Qaeda linked mil­i­tants eye north­east­ern Afghan ar­eas of Ku­nar and Nooris­tan as a vi­able haven.

He also claimed that in many ways success in Afghanistan is linked to Pak­istan elim­i­nat­ing mil­i­tant hide­outs on its side of the Afghan bor­der.

The Afghans, he said, will be in the lead through­out the coun­try for se­cu­rity in mid 2013. “Afghans will ul­ti­mately full re­spon­si­bil­ity for se­cu­rity by the end of 2014. Af­ter 2014, the United States has made clear through a strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ment, that we will main­tain an en­dur­ing pres­ence, and a long-term com­mit­ment to Afghan se­cu­rity.

And Nato made a sim­i­lar com­mit­ment to a post 2014 Afghanistan at the Chicago sum­mit last May.

“All of this sends a very sim­ple, and a very pow­er­ful mes­sage to al Qaeda, to the Tal­iban, and to the vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist groups who want to re­gain a safe haven in Afghanistan: we are not go­ing any­where.

Our com­mit­ment to Afghanistan is long term, and you can­not wait us out. This is im­por­tant, be­cause al Qaeda, the Tal­iban, and other as­so­ci­ated forces un­der pres­sure in Pak­istan, con­tinue to view the rugged ter­rain of north­east­ern Afghanistan, es­pe­cially Ku­nar and Nuris­tan prov­inces, as a vi­able safe haven.

A re­lent­less, and ef­fec­tive coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­fort, con­ducted by our Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Forces this year, made clear that we will not al­low them to re­gain that sanc­tu­ary”. The de­fence sec­re­tary said the US must pre­vent the emer­gence of new safe havens for al Qaeda else­where in the world that could be used to at­tack the United States, or its in­ter­ests. He hinted at wi­den­ing the war against al Qaeda.

“The last decade of war has shown that co­or­di­nated ef­forts to share in­tel­li­gence, to con­duct op­er­a­tions with part­ners, are crit­i­cal to mak­ing sure that al Qaeda has no place to hide.

We will ex­pand th­ese ef­forts, in­clud- ing through sup­port and part­ner­ship with gov­ern­ments in tran­si­tion in the Mid­dle East and North Africa”.

This cam­paign against al Qaeda will largely take place out­side de­clared com­bat zones, us­ing a small foot­print ap­proach, that in­cludes pre­ci­sion op­er­a­tions, part­nered ac­tiv­i­ties with for­eign spe­cial forces op­er­a­tions, and ca­pac­ity build­ing so that part­ner coun­tries can be more ef­fec­tive in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism on their own, he said.

“Wher­ever pos­si­ble, we will work through, and with lo­cal part­ners, sup­port­ing them with the in­tel­li­gence and re­sources they need in or­der to de­ter th­ese com­mon threats”. He said the US has to in­vest in new mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and se­cu­rity part­ner­ships. “Our new de­fense strat­egy makes clear that the mil­i­tary must re­tain, and even build new coun­tert­er­ror­ism ca­pa­bil­i­ties for the fu­ture. As we re­duce the size of the mil­i­tary, we are go­ing to con­tinue to ramp up spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces, which have dou­bled in size from 37,000 on 9/11, to 64,000 to­day. Spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces will grow to 72,000 by 2017.

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