US offers help for Pakistan’s anti-Taliban operations


Washington : The US has thrown its full weight behind Pakistan’s anti-Taliban military operations in its restive northwest, with two officials saying Washington would provide whatever assistance was required for their successful conclusion.

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“Wherever those threats exist, we would be encouraging of the Pakistani military taking it to them head on and defeating them,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a briefing here Monday.

He was quick to add that Washington was not advising Islamabad on the conduct of the operations that began in three districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) April 26 and which the Pakistani military says has resulted in the elimination of a little over 1,300 Taliban fighters.

“I am not going to go through a strategy; we want them to go here next and there after that. I mean, they are an independent, sovereign nation that makes decisions on its own about what’s in its interests in terms of self-defence,” Morrell maintained.

“But we are clearly encouraged by the fact that, ever since there was this encroachment on Islamabad by the Taliban and associated other militant groups, that we are seeing an aggressive and sustained military operation in response,” he added.

“We are, from a defence department perspective, very encouraged by the fact that they have continued these operations, and they show no signs of letting up at this point,” Morrell contended.

Speaking separately, US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair noted that for the first time, the Pakistani Army’s anti-Taliban operations had the full support of the government and the public.

“For the first time, the Pakistan army operations in that part of the world have support of the government and the public. This is really different from the past, when the army went up and there was little backing,” Blair said in an address to intelligence professionals Monday.

“I think these are having the effect of driving home to the public the seriousness of the threat that’s coming from that part of the country,” Blair added.

The Pakistani military went into action after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, and later spread to Buner and Swat.

The fighting has spurred the largest and quickest refugee exodus in recent time, with some three million civilians streaming out of the three districts.

The UN estimates that some $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees. The US, which has already pledged $110 million, has promised another $200 million. Pakistan has also received pledges of $244 million at an international donors conference in Islamabad in May.