Petraeus hails Taliban arrests in Pakistan
02-23-2010 01:55 PM
ISLAMABAD — The recent arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan were the result of intelligence breakthroughs and none was involved in reconciliation talks with the Afghan government, the U.S. general who oversees the war in Afghanistan said Tuesday.
The arrests of Mullah Baradar, the No. 2. Taliban commander, and at least two other insurgent leaders in recent weeks have been hailed as major developments in the eight-year-old Afghan war and a possible strategic shift for Pakistan. But questions have swirled over why the Pakistanis were acting now against insurgents who many analysts say have long enjoyed a haven in the country.
Gen. David Petraeus dismissed the idea that Pakistan always knew where the leaders were hiding out.
“I wouldn’t share your characterizations that, in a sense, they have always had this intelligence,” he told a small group of foreign correspondents in the Pakistani capital. “What has happened is that there has been some important breakthroughs.”
Over the past 18 months, Pakistan has undertaken several army offensives in the northwest region bordering Afghanistan against Islamic militants who have enjoyed relative safety there. Those operations have mostly targeted militants attacking the Pakistani state, not militants crossing the border and fighting U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Petraeus said Pakistan still made distinctions between groups in the border region, but said there appeared to be “evolution” in how it regards the threats coming from the area, seeing them now as increasingly entwined.
He also rejected speculation that Pakistan acted against Baradar and the others because they may have been involved in talks with the Afghan government and it wanted to get a seat at the table by arresting them.
“Any time that important leaders are killed or captured ... is a positive development,” he said. “I am not aware of any of these individuals were involved in any reconciliation talks.”
Petraeus was full of praise for the Pakistani army, saying the offensives in the northwest were “classic counterinsurgency operations” that would one day be studied by students of war. He also accepted its reasons for not moving immediately into North Waziristan, a tribal region where militants are believed to sheltering and where so far Pakistan has resisted launching a full-scale military operation.
Pakistani troops last year fought offensives in neighboring South Waziristan and earlier in the Swat Valley farther north to oust Taliban fighters.
“You can only take on so many bad guys at one time. You have to consolidate gains,” he said. “I think there is a very thoughtful and appropriate way ahead.”
The Obama administration says getting Pakistan to crack down on militants is key to winning the war in Afghanistan.
It is ramping up its support for the civilian government here as well support for the Pakistani army, which has been criticized by some for not doing enough to help and being an unworthy ally. Most visiting U.S. officials offer public praise for the way it is conducting the war, likely because they cannot afford to antagonize such a critical partner.
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