WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has said the US troops will not go in hot pursuit of extremists across the Afghan border into Pakistan — but demanded Islamabad hold up its end of the anti-terror struggle.
“I haven’t changed my approach,” Obama said in an interview broadcast on Sunday on the CBS programme “Face the Nation,” referring to the US missile strikes on militants. “If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them,” the president said.
Asked if he would send US troops on the ground into militant safe havens inside Pakistan, Obama stressed: “No. Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government.
“We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable.” Obama on Friday put Pakistan at the centre of the fight against Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network with a new strategy to commit thousands more troops and billions of dollars to the Afghan war.
Asked if this was now his personal war, Obama said: “I think it’s America’s war. “And the focus over the last seven years I think has been lost. What we want to do is to refocus attention on al-Qaeda,” he said in an oblique reference to predecessor George W Bush’s diversion of resources to Iraq.
“We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are going to make sure that they cannot attack US citizens, US soil, US interests, and our allies’ interests around the world.” With Pakistan subject to a renewed US focus, Defence Secretary Robert Gates urged Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service to cut contacts with extremists in Afghanistan, which he called an “existential threat” to Pakistan itself.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has had links with extremists “for a long time, as a hedge against what might happen in Afghanistan if we were to walk away or whatever,” he said on Fox News on Sunday.
“What we need to do is try and help the Pakistanis understand these groups are now an existential threat to them and we will be there as a steadfast ally for Pakistan,” Gates said. “They can count on us and they don’t need that hedge,” he said, citing the ISI’s links specifically to the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani militant network and to the forces of Afghan warlord Gulbadin Hekmatyar.
Obama said reports of the ISI links to Afghan extremists “aren’t new,” and attacked the notion among the average Pakistani that this is somehow America’s war and that they are not interested.
“And that attitude I think has led to a steady creep of extremism in Pakistan that is the greatest threat to the stability of the Pakistan government, and ultimately the greatest threat to the Pakistani people. And we expect that you understand the severity and the nature of the threat,” he said.
“In addition, what we want to do is to help Pakistan grow its economy, to be able to provide basic services to its people and that I think will help strengthen those efforts.” Gates was asked about a New York Times report that the US military commanders had pressed Obama for even more troops for Afghanistan.
“The president has approved every single soldier that I have requested of him,” he said. “And the reality is there already are a lot of troops there. This will bring us, when all is said and done, to 68,000 troops plus another 35,000 or so Europeans and other partners.”
But the new strategy will be reviewed at the end of the year, Gates also stressed, and said the United States has not given up on extracting more troops from European nations as Obama heads to a Nato summit in France and Germany.
“In fact, I think some of our allies will send additional forces there to provide security before the August elections in Afghanistan,” Gates said, adding that Washington also expected more civilian experts and police trainers.