The commander of U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Middle East, General David Petraeus, says Pakistan will likely have to make some deals with tribes along its border with Afghanistan in an effort to consolidate gains its military forces have made, but can not sustain on their own. Such deals have failed in the past, and U.S. officials have been skeptical of new ones.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, General Petraeus praised Pakistan's recent military operations against terrorist groups in the semi-autonomous tribal areas along the border. But he says the Pakistani military is reaching the limit of its capacity.
"The challenge is, of course, the limited assets that the government can support them with and that the military has access to, to do the rebuilding and to do the preparation for transitioning, even as they are working on holding with the military forces," said General Petraeus.
General Petraeus says in order to free up forces for further operations, Pakistan will have to make some agreements with local tribes to keep the terrorists out of their areas.
"They are going to have to figure out how to hold some of these areas through agreements with tribal elements, not necessarily those that have signed on in the past with the Pakistani Taliban, but that is going to be the way ahead, I think," he said.
Agreements with tribes have backfired in the past, providing the Taliban, al-Qaida and other groups with safe havens. But General Petraeus indicated the United States would not object to new agreements as long as they do not involve tribes or local leaders who have worked with the terrorists.
The general also said it is important for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to working with Pakistan for the long term as a reliable partner, something it has not always done in the past. That is the same theme expressed by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a visit to Islamabad.
"We are in this for the long haul, and intend to continue to be a partner of theirs for far into the future," he said. "I think that is the core message that I am bringing with me."
Secretary Gates said he is "very comfortable" with the relationships between U.S. and Pakistani leaders and the partnership they have fighting extremists who, he said, threaten both countries.
The United States has been encouraging Pakistan to press the fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, but a top Pakistani Army official said Thursday that the military will need time to consolidate recent gains before it can launch any new offensives.