WASHINGTON: US officials disclosed Thursday that senior Washington military and intelligence officials were so frustrated with Pakistan’s failure to stop local militant groups from attacking Americans in neighbouring Afghanistan that they had considered launching secret joint US-Afghan commando raids into Pakistan to hunt them down, officials said.
Meanwhile, in a blunt warning to Pakistan against supporting terror groups, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday asked Islamabad to do more about eliminating the “poisonous snakes” in its backyard, therein referring to terrorist safe havens in the country.
“What we’ve said to the Pakistanis is look, if there was ever an argument in the past for your policy of hedging against Afghanistan by supporting the Haqqani network or the Afghan Taliban or the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) against India, those days are over,” she said while appearing on the Charlie Rose show with former Secretary of State James Barker – who served from 1989-92 – for “Conversations on Diplomacy”. “Because that’s like the guy who keeps poisonous snakes in his backyard convinced they’ll only attack his neighbours,” she added.
Noting that the United State’s “relationship with Pakistan has been challenging for a long time,” the top diplomat regretted how, in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan “had embraced a kind of jihadi mentality in part to stimulate fighters both from the outside and within Afghanistan.”
“I think that our relationship with Pakistan has been challenging for a long time. Some of it is of our own making,” Clinton told the programme. “There’s a lot of concern looking back. We did a great job in getting rid of the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. But I think a lot of us – and Bob Gates (former Secretary of Defence) has said this – looking back now, perhaps we should have been more involved in the aftermath of what was going to happen to the Pakistanis. So we are living with a country that has a lot of difficult issues both for themselves and then for us and others,” she observed.
While she said it was not in the United State’s interest to cut off its relationship with Pakistan, she stipulated, “It is [however] in our interest to try to better direct and manage that relationship, and there are several things that we’re asking the Pakistanis to do more of and better. Number one, they’ve got to do more about the safe havens inside their own country. I mean, everybody knows that the Taliban’s momentum has been reversed, territory has been taken back, the Afghan Security Forces are performing much better, but the extremists have an ace in the hole,” Clinton said.
She proceeded to add, “[Pakistan] has to be willing to recognise that as we withdraw from Afghanistan, it is in their interest to have a strong, stable Afghan government. That can only come from being part of the solution, being at that table to try to help with Afghanistan’s economic and political and security development, rather than doing everything possible to try to undermine it.”
Meanwhile, the question of hot pursuit in Pakistan, which US officials say crops up every few months, has been consistently rejected because the White House believes the chance of successfully rooting out the deadly Haqqani network would not be worth the intense diplomatic blowback from Pakistan that inevitably would ensue, according to Fox News.
The Al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani tribe runs a mafia-like smuggling operation and occasionally turns to terrorism with the aim of controlling its territory in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqanis use Pakistani towns to plan, train and arm themselves with guns and explosives, cross into Afghanistan to attack Nato and Afghan forces, then retreat back across the border to safety.
The latest round of debate over whether to launch clandestine special operations raids into Pakistan against the Haqqanis came after the June 1 car bombing of Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Afghanistan that injured nearly 100 US and Afghan soldiers, according to three current and two former US officials who were briefed on the discussions. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the still-evolving debates.
While General John Allen’s spokesman Navy Brook DeWalt said the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan “has not and does not intend to push for a cross-border operation,” other officials revealed that Allen’s frustration against militants who would attack and then flee across the border in Pakistan was steadily mounting.
The officials said options that have been prepared for President Barack Obama’s review included raids that could be carried out by US Special Operations Forces together with Afghan commandos, ranging from air assaults that drop raiders deep inside the tribal areas to hit top leaders to shorter dashes only a few miles into Pakistan territory.
The shorter raids would not necessarily be covert, as they could be carried out following the US military principle known as “hot pursuit” that military officials said entitled their forces to pursue a target that attacked them in Afghanistan up to 6.2 miles inside a neighbouring country’s territory.