The United States stepped up pressure on Pakistan on Thursday as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said "we are reaching the limits of our patience" with a nominal ally that continues to provide a safe haven to al-Qaida-linked militants.
It was the latest sign that the United States is now getting tougher with Pakistan after years of muting criticism and looking the other way on the premise that an uneasy friendship was better than making the nuclear-armed country an outright enemy. As U.S. forces draw down in neighboring Afghanistan, the Americans appear to be pushing Pakistan harder than ever before to squeeze insurgents who find sanctuary within its borders.
Panetta, in the Afghan capital, told reporters he was visiting Kabul to take stock of progress in the war and discuss plans for the troop drawdown. But he used a news conference to strike across the border instead, saying the Pakistani government needs to do more -- and soon -- to root out the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani terrorist network.
Panetta repeatedly emphasized U.S. frustration with attackers crossing the border from Pakistan. It is essential that Pakistan stop "allowing terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces," he said alongside Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
"We have made that very clear time and time again, and we will continue to do that, but as I said, we are reaching the limits of our patience," Panetta said.
The United States wants Pakistan to take on the Haqqanis before the bulk of U.S. troops have left the region by the end of 2014. After that, the Afghans would have more trouble contending with the militants, who carry out large-scale attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.
In Washington, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference that the United States needs to continue working with Pakistan, despite frustrations.
"It's our view that those Haqqani, notably, the Haqqani network, is as big a threat to Pakistan as it is to Afghanistan and to us," he said, "but we haven't been able to find common ground on that point. So that's been very frustrating."
Panetta's remarks capped a week of some of the boldest language and actions by the Obama administration against its stated ally. Just a day before, he stood in the capital of Pakistan's archrival, India, and declared that drone strikes against suspected terrorists would continue, dismissing Pakistan's claims of sovereignty by saying U.S. sovereignty, too, was jeopardized by terrorists.