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US, Pakistan have shared interest in defeating terrorists: Panetta

22 November, 2012

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said despite challenges in the bilateral relationship, the United States and Pakistan share an interest in defeating terrorists and that Washington would pursue defence 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, one area in which our national interests continue to align is defeating the terrorists on Pakistan soil that threaten both of us," Panetta said. "We remain committed to pursuing defence cooperation based on these shared interests," he said at the Center for a New American Security. The secretary 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 border. The Afghans, he said, will be in the lead throughout the country for security in mid-2013. "Afghans will ultimately take 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," the defence secretary noted.

"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".

Panetta 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, including 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, he said.


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