Washington: US forces in Afghanistan were authorised to act in self-defence if attacked by terrorist groups from the Pakistani side of the Af-Pak border, a top
Pentagon official has said.
"Attacks against US and coalition personnel are unacceptable. It is Pakistan`s responsibility to prevent attacks from its territory on others, including Afghanistan and US forces there. If Pakistan does not address these threats, the US will have to consider a range of options, but it is best when we have Pakistan`s cooperation," Pentagon official James Miller said.
"My understanding is that US forces in Afghanistan are authorised to act in self-defence when they are under attack," Miller told lawmakers in written answers submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee, during a confirmation hearing for the post of Undersecretary of Defence for Policy.
Miller was responding to a question on his understanding of the rules of engagement for US troops in Afghanistan who were subjected to cross-border attacks from the Haqqani network or other insurgent forces on the Pakistan side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"I also understand that ISAF and USCENTCOM (US Central Command) are working with the Pakistanis to improve cross-border coordination and have conducted several tripartite meetings with Afghan and Pakistani security forces in recent months," he said.
Miller said the ability of violent extremist groups to find support and safe haven in Pakistan poses a significant threat to US forces, the NATO mission, and Afghanistan`s long-term stability.
The US official said Pakistan has legitimate concerns that should be understood and addressed, if possible, by the Afghan government in any process to bring about a stable and durable political solution in Afghanistan."But Pakistan also has responsibilities of its own, including taking decisive steps to ensure that the Afghan Taliban and affiliated organisations, including the Haqqani network, cannot continue to conduct the insurgency from Pakistani territory.”
"Increased Pakistani action is particularly critical with respect to groups such as the Haqqani network, which continues to maintain close ties to al Qaeda and other violent extremist organisations that pose real threats to the US, and indeed to the people and government of Pakistan," he said.
Responding to question on US assistance to Pakistan, Miller said going forward, it is vital that Pakistan live up to its responsibilities, including to cooperate fully in counterterrorism matters, and to expand its counterinsurgency campaign against all extremists and militant groups that have found safe haven inside Pakistan.
"Future provision of security-related assistance will be informed by Pakistan`s response to these requests and to the overall restart of our relationship in the wake of the November 26, 2011, cross-border incident that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistan Army soldiers.”
"If confirmed, I will work with Congress to ensure that the support the United States provides to Pakistan yields the results we seek," Miller said.
He said America`s relationship with Pakistan was challenging but critical to its national security and regional interests.
"Over the past year, the relationship has suffered a number of setbacks and, until recently, our relationship has been nearly frozen. We look forward to working with Pakistan to define and develop a more constructive and durable relationship once Pakistan`s parliamentary review process concludes," Miller said.
Miller also said there were sanctuaries in Pakistan in which Taliban fighters have been able to operate and come across the border.
"Although Pakistan has done much more in recent years to deal with them, we continue to work with them to try to try to do yet more.”
"Our work with Pakistan is extremely important both in our own bilateral relationship and in ensuring that we`re able to succeed in Afghanistan," he said.
With respect to a political settlement in Afghanistan, Miller said, "This is so-called `conversations` on reconciliation, and then at the lower level, of fighters on reintegration. We`ve seen about 3,800 former Taliban fighters come off the field in the last couple of years through reintegration, and expect that that effort will continue. That`s led by the Afghan government".
"With respect to reconciliation and the potential conversations with the leadership of the Taliban, those are essentially on hold at the present. But the objective is to structure a process in which Afghans talk to Afghans about the future of Afghanistan," he said.
If the Taliban were to come into that political process, they`ve got to meet the criteria that have been established, including renouncing ties with al Qaeda, including entering into a political process and honouring the Afghan Constitution, he added.