- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

The head of the U.S. Central Command said Sunday that the Taliban’s increasing foothold in the mountains of Pakistan “threatens the very existence” of the country, but he said he is confident that the nation’s military will protect its nuclear arsenal and that Taliban brutality has provoked Pakistanis to unite against the militia.

“Certainly the next few weeks will be very important in this effort to roll back, if you will, this existential threat, a true threat to Pakistan’s very existence that has been posed by the Pakistani Taliban,” Gen. David H. Petraeus said on “Fox News Sunday.”

But Gen. Petraeus added that reports of brutality and repression by the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan have helped rally public support for the country’s military offensive into the region to fight the militant organization - a scenario that could turn the tide in Pakistan’s battle to crush the group.

“The actions of the Pakistani Taliban … have galvanized all of Pakistan - not just the president and the prime minister but also even the opposition leaders, virtually all the elements of the political spectrum and the people,” the general said. “So there is a degree of unanimity that there must be swift and effective action taken against the Taliban in Pakistan.”

Gen. Petraeus said U.S. military and security analysts don’t think Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are in danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban.

“We have confidence in their security procedures and elements and believe that the security of those [nuclear] sites is adequate,” he said.

Several signs in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater Sunday were less optimistic. Two members of Congress said they did not think Afghan President Hamid Karzai was being fully cooperative with the U.S.

The U.S. national security adviser and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari both said they didn’t know where Taliban ally Osama bin Laden can be found, and U.S. officials rebuffed Mr. Karzai’s request for an end to bombing raids in his country.

National Security Adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. will not end air strikes in Afghanistan, as demanded by Mr. Karzai after two villages were hit by U.S. warplanes last week, killing scores of civilians, perhaps as many as 130. The U.S. has accused the Taliban militia of using civilians as human shields.

“I think that we’re going to take a look at trying to make sure that we correct those things we can correct, but certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we’re not going to conduct air strikes, it would be imprudent,” Mr. Jones said on ABC’s “This Week” program.

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill also expressed impatience Sunday with the Afghan leader. Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who met with Mr. Karzai last week, said he took exception to his “smugness” and “flippancy” when he was asked serious questions.

“I asked about what our mission in Afghanistan ought to be, and I thought President Karzai’s response was a non-response,” Mr. Corker said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “When I pushed him further, he basically said, ‘Look, this is your mission,’ which made me feel that our partnership there was not quite, I think, what Americans would like to see.”

Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who also met with the Afghan president last week, agreed that Mr. Karzai has been less than fully cooperative.

“I was in the same meeting, and some of the concerns that [Mr. Corker] raises are very well founded,” Mr. Casey said on CNN.

Story Continues →