US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta showed frustration with Pakistan yesterday, warning that Washington would not tolerate any more cross-border attacks on American forces in Afghanistan.
Speaking hours before a meeting with the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, Mr Panetta commented angrily about the 20-hour assault this week against the US embassy and NATO headquarters in the capital, Kabul.
It was unacceptable that groups such as the Haqqani network were able to launch such deadly attacks and then flee to safe havens across the border in Pakistan, he said.
“The message they need to know is: we’re going to do everything we can to defend our forces,” Mr Panetta said. He refused to say whether the US planned to take any new military actions, but there has been a stepped-up US campaign of drone strikes into Pakistan’s border regions.
“Time and again, we’ve urged the Pakistanis to exercise their influence over these kinds of attacks from the Haqqanis, and we have made very little progress in that area,” Mr Panetta said.
“I’m not going to talk about how we’re going to respond . . . We’re not going to allow these types of attacks to go on.”
US officials have blamed the Haqqani network for the nearly day-long assault on the heavily guarded Afghan capital that ended on Wednesday.
The attack left 27 dead, including police, civilians and attackers.
Mr Panetta’s remarks reflect growing US impatience over Islamabad’s reluctance to go after the Haqqanis, who are connected to both the Taliban and al-Qaida and present the most significant threat to Afghanistan’s stability.
US officials have repeatedly pressed the Pakistanis to move against insurgent havens in the border region. The Haqqanis use the lawless territory to launch attacks against US and Afghan forces across the border.
US relations with Pakistan have been rocky amid complaints about the increased American drone attacks across the border.
But they worsened after the US special operations forces crossed into Pakistan in May to raid the Abbottabad compound where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had been hiding for years. Bin Laden was killed in the raid, and Pakistani officials were angry about what they considered an assault on their sovereignty.
Asked whether this week’s attack raised concerns about the Afghans’ ability to take over their own security, Mr Panetta repeated US assertions that the violence levels in Afghanistan continue to decline, and that the Taliban had been weakened.
The defence chief also said negotiations were progressing well with the Iraqis over a continued US presence after the end of the year.