April 29th, 2010
04:06 PM ET

U.S. officials: Multiple insurgencies overwhelming Pakistan

U.S. officials say Pakistan is a “nation under siege” and faces a “herculean” task in dealing with multiple insurgencies — but better co-operation between Washington and Islamabad is reaping dividends.

That was the message from senior Administration officials and U.S. military officers at a committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Lt. Gen.  John Paxton Jr., Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistan was a “nation under threat or a nation under siege … and they realize that they have to respond now.” Without a sense of urgency, he said, "things could conceivably get worse, and get worse quickly.”

Pakistan’s army has been involved in a series of offensives against militant groups in the tribal territories that border Afghanistan, diverting about 100,000 soldiers from its border with India in the process. Last summer’s offensive to remove the Pakistani Taliban from the Swat Valley was followed by a bigger campaign in South Waziristan.

Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told the House Armed Service Committee that the U.S. must help Pakistan to move resources rapidly into areas cleared of extremists. Reports from the region suggest there is disenchantment among civilians in the tribal territories — thousands of whom are still displaced — with efforts to rebuild infrastructure. Flournoy also acknowledged that U.S. officials in Pakistan had reported militants returning to the cleared areas.

The United States has a $5.7 billion civilian assistance program spread over five years, but officials have admitted that getting the aid to where it’s needed is often difficult.

Flournoy stressed that attitudes within Pakistan towards the extremists have changed radically in the past year. Once major cities were targeted by the Pakistani Taliban, she said, "the threat came home to the Pakistani people and it galvanized their political will.”

Questioned about a Human Rights Watch report that documented up to 300 extrajudicial killings by Pakistani security forces during and after the operation in the Swat Valley, Flournoy said the United States was "engaging our counterparts in Pakistan on these allegations."

She said one of the major changes in Pakistani perceptions was that “you have people waking up to the fact that the U.S.  isn’t leaving this region anytime soon.”

Photo at top: A Pakistani soldier observes a destroyed mosque after a suicide car bomb attack on the outskirts of Peshawar on Wednesday. 

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