President Barack Obama said that US soldiers would not pursue insurgents into Pakistan, but added that missile strikes could continue as part of the war in Afghanistan, and called on Islamabad to step up its anti-terror efforts.
AFP - President Barack Obama said US troops would 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 Sunday on CBS program "Face the Nation," referring to 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.
But 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," he said. "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 center of the fight against Al-Qaeda with a new strategy to commit 4,000 more troops, in addition to an extra 17,000 already committed, 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 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, Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged its powerful intelligence service to cut contacts with extremists in Afghanistan, which he called an "existential threat" to Pakistan itself.
Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence 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 Sunday."
"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 Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Obama said reports of 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 invested."
"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, arguing that a tripling of US aid would also strengthen Pakistan's economy and basic services, and so erode support for terrorism.
Gates was asked about a New York Times report that 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."
General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, said Obama had approved "every request" for troops made by himself and General David McKiernan, the US commander in Afghanistan.
"What everyone has said is let's get these forces on the ground... And, as I said, we'll take that forward, do the assessments. And I think it'd be premature to get beyond that right now," Petraeus told CNN.
Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, denied that Afghanistan could become a Vietnam-style quagmire for Obama with public support steadily eroding for the anti-terror fight.
"The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese never posed any direct threat to the United States and its homeland," he said on CNN.
"The people we are fighting in Afghanistan, and the people they are sheltering in western Pakistan, pose a direct threat.
"And you can be sure that, as we sit here today, they are planning further attacks on the United States and our allies."
Date created : 2009-03-29