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Robert Burns, Associated Press
October 31, 2009
U.S. Secretary of State faces sharp questions from civilians as she ends tense three-day tour
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was confronted repeatedly by Pakistanis yesterday as she ended a tense three-day tour of the country, chastised by one woman who said a U.S. program using aerial drones to target terrorists amounted to “executions without trial.”
On another thorny topic, Ms. Clinton slightly softened her blunt charge of a day earlier that Pakistani officials know where al-Qaeda terrorists are hiding and are doing little about it.
Ms. Clinton faced sharp questions from Pakistani civilians about the U.S. effort that uses unmanned aircraft to launch missiles to kill terrorists along the porous, ungoverned border with Afghanistan.
But she refused to go into detail about the classified strikes that have killed both key terrorism leaders and bystanders, long a source of outrage among Pakistan’s population despite an equally deadly campaign of militant-spawned bombings.
Asked repeatedly about the drones, a subject that involves highly classified CIA operations, Ms. Clinton said only that “there is a war going on.” She added that the Obama administration is committed to helping Pakistan defeat the insurgents.
Ms. Clinton left Islamabad for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates after a tour that was rocked at the start by a devastating terrorist bombing in Peshawar that killed 105 people, many of them women and children.
Her visit revealed clear signs of strain between the two nations despite months of public insistence that they were on the same wavelength in the so-called war on terror.
What is less apparent is what U.S. officials hope will come from Ms. Clinton’s tough language about Pakistani officials’ failure to eliminate al-Qaeda as a threat within their borders.
Pakistan’s military recently launched a major offensive in the South Waziristan border area to clear out insurgent hideouts. But two earlier army efforts made little progress there, leaving questions about the military’s resolve to tackle al-Qaeda head on.
Two U.S. defence officials said yesterday that the latest Pakistani sweep into South Waziristan, though still early, was making progress.
Before she flew to the emirates, Ms. Clinton carefully scaled back her comments from a day earlier suggesting that some Pakistani officials knew where al-Qaeda’s upper echelon has been hiding and have done little to target them.
When the U.S. gathers evidence that al-Qaeda fugitives are hiding in Pakistan, Ms. Clinton said yesterday during a Pakistani media interview, “we feel like we have to go to the government of Pakistan and say, somewhere these people have to be hidden out.
“We don’t know where, and I have no information that they know where, but this is a big government. You know, it’s a government on many levels. Somebody, somewhere in Pakistan must know where these people are. And we’d like to know because we view them as really at the core of the terrorist threat that threatens Pakistan, threatens Afghanistan, threatens us, threatens people all over the world,” Ms. Clinton said.
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