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Clinton Defends US Policy on Pakistan, Afghanistan to Congressional Panel

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, October 27, 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, October 27, 2011.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has strongly defended Obama administration policies towards Pakistan and Afghanistan during an appearance Thursday before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Some lawmakers expressed frustration about continued terrorist safe havens in Pakistan that are undermining NATO efforts in Afghanistan.

A number of lawmakers grilled Secretary of State Clinton as to whether the United States is making progress towards achieving its strategic national security goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said the United States and Pakistan are at a crossroads, and that Washington cannot sustain a partnership with Islamabad if it pursues policies that are hostile to U.S. interests and jeopardize American lives. She said the ultimate disgrace was the discovery of now deceased al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden living inside Pakistan close to a Pakistani military facility.

Secretary of State Clinton said she would be the first to admit that relationships with the two countries are not always easy. But she cited major successes the United States has achieved.

"Osama bin Ladin and many of his top lieutenants are dead," said Clinton. "The threat remains real and urgent, especially from al-Qaida’s affiliates. But the group’s senior leadership has been devastated and its ability to conduct operations greatly diminished."

The ranking member of the committee, Democratic Representative Howard Berman of California, said he felt that perhaps U.S. military aid to Pakistan might need to be re-evaluated, but he said continued U.S. economic aid is vital.

"It is in our long-term interest to support the continued development of Pakistan's civil society and nascent democratic institutions," said Berman.

Clinton said that during her trip to Pakistan last week she delivered a clear message to military and civilians leaders that they must act against the militant Haqqani network.

“I explained that trying to distinguish between so-called good terrorists and bad terrorists is ultimately self-defeating and dangerous," she said. "No one who targets innocent civilians of any nationality should be tolerated or protected.”

U.S. officials have accused Pakistan's military spy agency, the ISI of providing support to the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network, which has launched attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Other foreign policy issues also came up at the hearing. Republican Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio strongly criticized President Barack Obama for saying he is going to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of this year.

"I am very concerned by the president's recent announcement of a complete withdrawal by the end of the year," said Chabot. "Fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of American national security interests is at best strategic neglect and at worst downright irresponsible."

Chabot also said he feared U.S. forces may be pulled out of Afghanistan before conditions there merit it. The United States has about 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to bring most of them home by the end of 2014.