- Associated Press - Thursday, June 7, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday pressured Pakistan to do more to root out the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani terrorist network from its territory, saying that U.S. officials are “reaching the limits of our patience.”

The Haqqani group has been blamed for several attacks on Americans in Afghanistan, including last year’s attack against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul. It also has ties to the Taliban and has emerged as perhaps the biggest threat to stability in Afghanistan.

U.S. lawmakers from both parties have been urging the U.S. State Department to designate the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organization.

The U.S. has given Pakistan billions of dollars in aid for its support in fighting Islamist militants. Despite pressure from the U.S., Pakistan has remained reluctant to go after insurgents, particularly the Haqqani network.

Panetta’s remarks capped two days of blunt commentary on Pakistan.

“It is an increasing concern that the safe haven exists and that there are those — likely Haqqanis — who are making use of that to attack our forces,” Panetta said at a news conference with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.

“We are reaching the limits of our patience here, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven from taking place and allowing terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces.”

Panetta then underscored his point.

“We have made that very clear time and time again and we will continue to do that, but as I said, we are reaching the limits of our patience.”

For more than three decades the Haqqani network, led by the elderly Jalaluddin Haqqani, has maintained headquarters in Pakistan’s Miran Shah district of North Waziristan. Pakistan has denied aiding the Haqqanis, and the Pakistani military has refused to carry out an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region, saying it would unleash a tribal-wide war that Pakistan could not contain.

Panetta said the U.S. continues to see Haqqani fighters moving from Pakistan into Afghanistan to attack American forces — most recently on June 1 when he said they detonated a truck bomb and then tried to storm Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province. Some U.S. service members were wounded in the attack, which was repelled by coalition forces. Fourteen heavily armed militants were killed.

“It is very important that Pakistan take steps to deal with this threat,” Panetta said. “We have made that clear time and time again. We will continue to make that clear that it is an intolerable situation to have those attacking our people, our forces, have the convenience of being able to return to a safe haven in Pakistan.”

Panetta’s explicit description of frustration, which he also voiced in his visit to neighboring India, appeared to signal a somewhat tougher stance and a suggestion that the U.S. is becoming even more willing and quick to strike terrorist targets inside Pakistan. A senior U.S. official acknowledged Thursday that the recent increase in drone strikes on insurgents in Pakistan is due in part to frustration with Islamabad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.

The Afghan defense minister also said he thought Pakistan could do more to eliminate the sanctuaries that militants are using in Pakistan, saying the Pakistanis are in a better position to provide intelligence or take law enforcement or military actions.

“I do hope that gradually they will come to the conclusion to cooperate with us,” Wardak said.

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