WASHINGTON – Pakistan has told U.S. military officials that it plans to launch combat operations against Taliban militants soon in a tribal area near the Afghan border that also serves as a haven for leaders of the al-Qaida-affiliated Haqqani network, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
Speaking to The Associated Press in his Pentagon office, Panetta said Pakistans military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, discussed the planned operation in recent conversations with the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen.
Panetta said he did not know when the Pakistani operation would start, but he said he understands it will be in the near future and that the main target will be the Pakistani Taliban, rather than the Haqqani network.
Panetta welcomed Kayanis initiative, even though the main target may not be the Haqqani leadership.
Theyve talked about it for a long time. Frankly, Id lost hope that they were going do anything about it. But it does appear that they in fact are going to take that step.
The U.S. long has been frustrated by Islamabads refusal to target Afghan Taliban militants and their allies using Pakistani territory to stage attacks against U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target groups with which it has strong historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
Touching on another major U.S. frustration in Afghanistan, Panetta said he saw the accelerating pattern of attacks on American and other coalition troops by members of the Afghan army and police as a sign that the Taliban is grasping for success.
He argued that the Afghan insider attacks, in which numerous Afghan troops have turned their guns on coalition forces, are in some cases a reflection of efforts by the Taliban to use unconventional tactics against a coalition force that it cannot defeat on the battlefield.
The Taliban has not been successful at regaining any of the areas that (it) lost over the past two years, he said. And so I think part of what youre seeing is that they are going to resort to a strategy of using unconventional attacks, including improvised explosive devices and the encouragement of insider attacks.