Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick
February 27, 2008
CIA Director Leon Panetta said yesterday that U.S. aerial attacks against al-Qaeda and other extremist strongholds inside Pakistan would continue, despite concerns about a popular Pakistani backlash.
“Nothing has changed our efforts to go after terrorists, and nothing will change those efforts,” Panetta said in response to questions about CIA missile attacks, launched from unmanned Predator aircraft. Although he refused to discuss details of the attacks — and the CIA will not confirm publicly that it is behind the strikes — Panetta said that the efforts begun under President George W. Bush to destabilize al-Qaeda and destroy its leadership “have been successful.”
“I don’t think we can stop just at the effort to try to disrupt them. I think it has to be a continuing effort, because they aren’t going to stop,” Panetta said in his first news briefing since taking the job. The CIA has launched about three dozen Predator strikes in Pakistan since late last summer, two of them during the Obama administration.
Panetta’s comments came as senior Pakistani and Afghan leaders held lengthy talks here with each other and with their U.S. counterparts. Obama administration officials said that the unprecedented consultations were as important as any substantive agreements that may emerge from them.
The talks, quickly arranged during the first overseas trip of special U.S. envoy Richard C. Holbrooke this month, include the foreign and defense ministers of both countries, along with Afghanistan’s interior minister and Pakistan’s intelligence chief. The Pakistani army chief of staff is also here on a separate visit to his U.S. military counterparts.
In addition to bilateral sessions, the Afghan and Pakistani delegations met jointly yesterday with the National Security Council and attended a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. They will hold another trilateral session today.