WASHINGTON (June 11, 2009) – The commander of U.S. Central Command Thursday praised the Pakistani army for operations it is waging against insurgents near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
“These have been quite impressive operations and I think Pakistan deserves some significant credit for it,” Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said of operations in Pakistan’s Northwest Province.
Petraeus spoke today at the Center for a New American Security about the so-called “Af-Pak” strategy President Barack Obama’s administration laid out in March. One of the key features of the plan to change course in Afghanistan is to broaden the operation to include Pakistan.
The Pakistani military’s initiative against extremists within their borders reflects Pakistan’s belief that the insurgents represent a major threat to the country, the general said.
“There is no question at this point that the Pakistanis see very clearly the existential threat that is posed to their country by the extremists, particularly by the Pakistani Taliban,” he said.
“As these operations go forward, it is obvious that there is a clear recognition of the need not just to clear miscreants – as the Pakistanis term them – from Swat Valley and from the others in which they have challenged the writ of government,” he said. “But there is also a recognition of the need to hold those areas and then of course to rebuild them because there has been significant damage in some of those areas as well.”
Petraeus said the current operations represent the first time Pakistani people have risen up against the insurgents in the tribal areas, aligning themselves against the Taliban with so-called ‘tribal Lashkars.’
“You see all of the political leadership united,” he said, adding that the government in Islamabad is also working to relieve the people displaced by conflict. Petraeus reaffirmed the U.S. support of military logistics and Pakistani relief operations.
“Those people have to be enabled to get home. These are proud hill people, now down in the lowlands in camps and they desperately need to get back there and so the conditions must be established and achieved to enable them to do just that,” he said of the refugees.
“Of course what we’re trying to do there is provide assistance but not direct tactical or operational assistance, but rather logistical assistance, coalition support funding, funding to support the internally displaced persons,” he said of the $300 million pledged by the U.S. to aid the humanitarian relief.
Meanwhile, the United States delivered four Mi-17 cargo helicopters to the Pakistani army yesterday to support Pakistan’s counterinsurgency as well as humanitarian efforts, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad announced.
Petraeus praised the speed in which the delivery was made. “Within two or three weeks of [the] request from them for helicopter support, we wheeled four Mi-17s just refurbished out of the back of a Colt [military aircraft] yesterday,” he said.