By Roxana Tiron for Bloomberg News
An accelerated counterterrorism campaign in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is “vital” for the U.S. to defeat al-Qaeda there and prevent its return, according to CIA Director Leon Panetta, who is nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Any decisions on future U.S. security assistance “will be informed” by Pakistan’s response to the “concrete steps” the U.S. has set for counterterrorism cooperation, Panetta said in a 79-page set of answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of his confirmation hearing scheduled for June 9.
Last month, the U.S. found and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was hiding in a compound in the city of Abbottabad, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of the capital, Islamabad.
The U.S. “train-advise-equip” programs with Pakistani military and paramilitary forces have been important in eliminating terrorist sanctuaries and disrupting the al-Qaeda network, Panetta said.
“It is vital, however, that Pakistan live up to its end of the bargain, cooperating more fully in counterterrorism matters and ceasing to provide sanctuary to Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups,” he said.
Pakistan continues to lack the necessary military and civilian capacities to “hold” and “build” in areas along the border region that have been cleared of al-Qaeda forces, Panetta said.
“If confirmed, I will work the Congress to ensure that the support we provide is yielding the results we seek,” he said.
Since 2009, Pakistan has undertaken counterinsurgency operations against extremist organizations in the northwest, including in Swat, South Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur “with varying levels of success,” said Panetta.
“Pakistan’s level of commitment is reflected in the enormous casualties it has suffered as a result of terrorism in the last few years, including more than 11,000 military personnel killed or wounded in action and more than 30,000 civilian causalities in recent years,” he said.
Panetta said that while, bin Laden’s death is a “significant blow” to al-Qaeda, the core group and its offshoots “remain a vary dangerous threat” in the region and to the U.S. homeland.
“There is a risk that decentralized affiliates may pose an increased threat to the United States,” he said
Panetta said that President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy is “sound” and the U.S. has made “the progress necessary to give the President meaningful options for his decision,” on how many U.S. forces to withdraw beginning in July.
The military gains in Afghanistan are “helping to create the conditions for reconciliation,” between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban insurgents.