US asks Pakistan to launch military offensive against extremists

Published: Tuesday July 17, 2007

The United States on Tuesday prodded Pakistan to launch a military offensive against fighters hiding in tribal areas after Washington hinted at a lack of commitment from its ally to hunt down violent extremists.

US officials said Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf should send his troops into the tribal border region with Afghanistan to flush out Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, following the collapse of a 10-month peace accord between Islamabad and tribal elders.

"I think first and foremost we have to remember that some military action is necessary, and will probably have to be taken," Assistant Secretary of State for South and central Asian affairs Richard Boucher said.

The United States, he said, was also prepared to help upgrade the Pakistan military, particularly its "frontier corps" that forms the bulk of the estimated 85,000 military forces in the tribal and border regions.

Boucher spoke after a week of violence in North Waziristan, a remote frontier region where militant leaders over the weekend renounced a September accord with Islamabad.

The peace pact in the stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants had been heavily criticized by the United States and Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities have made intense efforts to shore up the peace accord since the Taliban pulled out on Saturday, knowing that without it, they risk fresh violence in a region thought to contain many militants.

Boucher said Washington was less concerned about whether the agreement worked or not, pointing out that "it's the facts of what happens.

"There are elements in these areas that are extremely violent and are out to kill government people, out to kill government leaders, and will not settle for a peaceful way forward," he said.

"Whether it is through an agreement or through the imposition of government will or whatever, they remain the key: no Talibanization, no cross-border activity, no Al-Qaeda plotting and planning from the tribal areas," he said.

"And we're going to help the government of Pakistan achieve that through whatever -- all these different means that might be necessary," he said citing joint US-Pakistan plans to develop the isolated areas in tandem with possible military action.

The United States has promised 150 million dollars a year for the next five years to develop the tribal areas on top of a Pakistani funding of about 100 million dollars a year.

US officials said it would be timely for Musharraf to step up his offensive against extremists hiding in the tribal areas, especially after he had ordered an assault on a pro-Taliban mosque compound in Islamabad last week.

The assault resulted in the deaths of 11 soldiers and 75 people inside the compound, mainly militants.

"We think the time is now," one official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We think with the movement on the Red Mosque, Musharraf feels a sense of momentum and he's got the tools in place -- he's got the construction money, he's got the military starting to creep forward into forward positions," the official said.

"Whether the peace deal (in the tribal areas) is on or off, it doesn't matter."

Amid US concerns over the militants' presence in the tribal areas, President George W. Bush's top counter-terrorism aide said Tuesday Washington rarely got all of the help it wanted from allies like Pakistan in efforts to hunt down violent extremists.

"When people ask me about our counterterrorism cooperation, our allies around the world, the suggestion is: 'Do they give you everything you want?' That is almost never the case," said Bush's homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, Frances Townsend.

"And you know what? If I only cooperated with those who gave me 100 percent of what I thought I needed or wanted, I wouldn't have a whole lot of allies around the world," she said during a briefing at the White House on the latest National Intelligence Estimate of terrorist threats to the United States.