NEW DELHI (AP) — Just two days after a drone strike killed al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made it clear Wednesday that such attacks will continue as long as the U.S. needs to defend itself against terrorists that threaten America.
“This is about our sovereignty as well,” he said when answering questions from the audience after a speech at an Indian think tank.
And he was blunt about the difficulties in the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, as insurgents continue to find safe haven there, despite repeated protests from American leaders.
“It’s a complicated relationship, often times frustrating, often times difficult,” Mr. Panetta said. “They have provided some cooperation. There are other times when, frankly, that cooperation is not there. But the United States cannot just walk away from that relationship. We have to continue to do what we can to try to improve (the) areas where we can find some mutual cooperation.”
“Pakistan is a complicated relationship, complicated for both of our countries, but it is one that we must continue to work to improve,” Mr. Panetta said. “India and the United States will need to continue to engage Pakistan, overcoming our respective — and often deep — differences with Pakistan to make all of South Asia peaceful and prosperous.”
But Mr. Panetta‘s speech came as U.S. tensions with Pakistan continue to fray, strained by the persistent CIA drone attacks that target insurgents inside Pakistan, as well as a deadlock in negotiation over U.S. shipments of supplies across the Afghanistan border.
Adding to that potential discord, Mr. Panetta also urged Indian leaders in meetings Tuesday and Wednesday to consider providing additional support to Afghanistan, including trade, reconstruction and assistance for the Afghan security forces.
The U.S. is hoping that India can play a more robust role in the war effort, particularly in the training of Afghan forces, as the number of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan continues to decline over the next year.