In India on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta acknowledged that the United States is at war within the boundaries of Pakistan: “We are fighting a war in the FATA. We are fighting a war against terrorism.”
FATA is an area located between the Pakistan-Afghanistan border provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the north and east, Balochistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. The Haqqani network, which is comprised of Islamic terrorists who attack U.S. troops, live there, and the U.S. has launched drone strikes against them.
The drone strikes have exacerbated tensions between Islamabad and Washington, with Islamabad claiming that the U.S. is violating its sovereignty.
Republican members of Congress have been frustrated at the tepid approach Washington has used to strike within FATA. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham said, “I think it’s part of the theater of war. It’s a place where the enemy seeks sanctuary.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, called the situation:
“unacceptable … the realism of the situation is that there are the elements of the Pakistani military, specifically the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], that are supporting the Haqqani network that is killing Americans. Whether you call that being at war or not, that’s up to you. I don’t view it as being at war, but I certainly view it as a situation which is not acceptable.”
Dana Rohrabacher, (R- CA) said the U.S. is at war with Pakistan:
“We are now engaged in mission impossible in Afghanistan. As long as we don’t recognize the Pakistanis as actually being engaged in that war against us, we cannot successfully terminate that conflict. We should continue hitting the leadership of the terrorist networks until the minute that we get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan and then wave to them goodbye.”
Congress is fed up with Pakistan; it has voted to slash the aid budget proposed by the White House by more than two-thirds, with tough restrictions on the rest of the budget. The anger on both sides has been mounting. Last November, NATO troops killed 24 Pakistani troops, and Pakistan angrily shut down NATO supply lines to Afghanistan. More recently, in response to Pakistan sentencing a Pakistani doctor to 33 years in prison for helping the U.S. find bin Laden, the Senate cut funding by an extra $33 million.
The left’s leading spokesman in the Senate, Carl Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services, was quick to dilute the implications of Panetta’s remarks. He said that Panetta only meant that the U.S. is at war with the Haqqani network, not the country of Pakistan: “They’re at war with us and that makes us at war with them. That doesn’t make us at war with Pakistan — it makes us at war with a group that’s at war with us.”
But Graham intimated that Panetta’s remarks were intended to indicate further drone strikes would be necessary:
“In the enduring strategic partnership agreement, when you talk about not being able to use Afghanistan to launch attacks against third countries without permission from the Afghan government, everyone understands that the attacks in the tribal region are not an attack against Pakistan, but against terrorist organizations that are killing American soldiers and Afghanistan. I think he’s planting a flag that we will continue operations in the tribal regions because it’s part of the war in Afghanistan.”