United States could do more to intercept militants, Pakistan says

U.S. forces in Afghanistan and their Afghan allies, have failed to intercept Taliban and other militants fleeing across the border from an ongoing Pakistani military offensive, a senior Pakistani official said Thursday.

“Please do not permit these people to disappear,” said the official, in Washington for talks with the Obama administration. “Take them out. Eliminate them.  . . . There should be a hammer and anvil,” the official said, but the “Pakistan hammer saw no evidence of the anvil on the other side.”

The complaint came as U.S. forces have been withdrawn from positions near the border in eastern Afghanistan and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan are still solidifying their positions there.

Administration officials and skeptical lawmakers, while supporting the offensive in the tribal region of North Waziristan, have questioned whether Pakistan’s campaign to rout militants in the region includes members of the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban-allied group that has been responsible for numerous cross-border attacks on U.S. forces.

The United States has long charged Pakistani intelligence with supporting and maintaining ties with the Haqqanis. Lawmakers have included a restriction on funds to Pakistan in the fiscal 2015 defense budget unless Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel certifies that Pakistani military operations “have significantly disrupted the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani network.”

The Pakistani official said that no militant group will be immune from the offensive, which began a month ago with extensive airstrikes and is continuing with about 150,000 ground troops. The government has evacuated hundreds of thousands of civilians from the region.

“How can you carry out a military operation that is costing the lives of hundreds of soldiers and officers, and costing us hundreds of millions of dollars, and for us to let any one particular group . . . escape?” he said. “Everyone has to be taken out.

“If there are any militants that are found fleeing into Afghanistan, we would love to see them taken out by the U.S., ISAF [the U.S.-led international force] and Afghan forces,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic conversations with the United States.

U.S. and Pakistani officials agree that relations between them have much improved since Nawaz Sharif was elected prime minister last year. Pakistan launched the offensive, encouraged by the United States, after Sharif tried and failed to conduct peace negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistan-headquartered Afghan Taliban maintains close ties with the Pakistani Taliban, whose objective is to overthrow Pakistan’s elected government and impose strict Islamic law.

The U.S. defense budget includes nearly $1 billion in aid to Pakistan, most of it designated for development and economic assistance. Restrictions proposed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) would apply to hundreds of millions of dollars the United States is due to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism operations.

While Pakistan seeks no additional funds for its military operations, the official said, it would like more intelligence sharing to aid in the counterterrorism operations.

CIA drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions resumed last month after a six-month hiatus. U.S. officials have said that they would like to phase out the Pakistan strikes as U.S. combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Pakistan has said little about the resumption, including six strikes in North Waziristan, according to tallies by the New America Foundation. The official said Pakistan has made its ongoing opposition clear.

“The drone strikes should take place on the other side” of the border, he said. “We want to make it very clear. We are never informed as to when they are taking place, where they are taking place, and who is the target for the simple reason that we have made it clear both privately as well as publicly our opposition.”

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.
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