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KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. is reaching “the limits of our patience” with Pakistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday during a brief visit to Afghanistan.

“It is an intolerable situation to have those attacking our forces, our people, to have the convenience of returning to a safe haven in Pakistan,” Panetta said in a joint news conference with Afghan Minister of Defense Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak. “It is extremely important that Pakistan take action. ... We have made that very clear, time and time again, and we will continue to do that.”

The United States has long implored the Pakistani government to take a more proactive approach toward rooting out militants, including those within the Haqqani Network, who stage attacks in Afghanistan and retreat across the border to hideouts in Pakistan. The relationship, strained since the United States did not inform Pakistan in advance of last May’s operation that killed Osama bin Laden, soured further after a NATO aircraft mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. In response, Pakistan closed critical land supply routes into Afghanistan and negotiations to reopen them have been unproductive.

Panetta stopped short of defining what type of action the U.S. might take against the Haqqani Network — which has been blamed for several recent deadly attacks. But he told servicemembers at Kabul International Airport that the U.S. is “prepared to take ’em on.”

“Anybody who attacks U.S. soldiers is our enemy,” Panetta told the troops.

The secretary’s visit was the last stop on a Pacific swing that included visits to Hawaii, Singapore, Vietnam and India. After Panetta’s speech to about 150 uniformed servicemembers in Kabul, a man wearing civilian clothes who said he works with Afghan forces asked what message he can take to the “rank and file” Afghans who are concerned about the pace of the troop withdrawal.

“That we’re not going anyplace,” Panetta said. “We are here for the enduring future.”

U.S. forces are transferring operations to the Afghans and drawing down, but still “maintaining an enduring presence” past 2014.

An Air Force officer asked how the U.S. will protect the safety of military advisors who are in Afghanistan after the drawdown.

“We are not going to put people in a situation where they can’t protect themselves,” Panetta said.

Wardak also said he is not worried about the plan to cut the number of U.S. forces in the country.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Wardak said, “the political, strategic and symbolic significance of the force is far more important than the actual size of the force.”

hladj@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @jhlad


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