Pakistan must root out terrorist havens, says Obama

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WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Thursday called on Pakistan to step up the fight to root out terrorist safe havens within its borders, saying progress “has not come fast enough”.
Obama, speaking to reporters on a new war review, said that the US “welcomed” Pakistan’s efforts against Islamic extremists, including offensives in it’s Tribal Areas.
“Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough, so we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with,” Obama said.
He confirmed he would visit Pakistan next year and pledged to support aid to the frontline country. The US Congress last year approved a $7.5 billion-package.
“We’ll speed up our investment in civilian institutions and projects that improve the lives of Pakistanis,” Obama said.
The US “is committed to an enduring partnership that helps deliver improved security, development and justice for the Pakistani people,” Obama said.
He said that surging troops into Afghanistan had made “significant progress” in curbing the Taliban and stifling Al Qaeda, but warned more time was needed.
Obama said Al Qaeda “is hunkered down” finding it harder to recruit, train and plot attacks.
But he warned, “It will take time to ultimately defeat Al Qaeda and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country.”
The US president stressed he was committed to beginning to withdraw US troops from the nine-year conflict from July, adding though that the drawdown will “conclude in 2014”.
“Our review confirms, however, for these gains to be sustained over time, there is an urgent need for political and economic progress in Afghanistan.”
The White House review also cautioned that the gains made over the past year were “fragile” and reversible.
The review said Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan was weaker than at any time since 2001.
But the study was short on details and supporting evidence, and did not include pointed criticisms of the Pakistani and Afghan governments which have featured US government documents leaked in recent months.
The review, the product of a two-month period of assessment of all aspects of US war strategy, comes after a year of record bloodshed for foreign troops and rising Afghan civilian deaths.
“In Pakistan, we are laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation, and enhanced exchange and assistance programmes. And in Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible,” the review added.
The report trod carefully on uneasy US anti-terror ally Pakistan, following pointed criticisms of Islamabad’s nuclear safety and other areas of policy revealed in US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks and other reports.
Progress in Washington-Islamabad alliance had been “substantial” but “uneven” in the last year, and some adjustments are necessary, the report said.
“For instance, the denial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan,” the report said.