|Drone strikes ‘absolutely essential’, says Panetta|
28 May 2012
NEW YORK - “We want a fair price,” US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday while rejecting Pakistan’s demand for $5,000 for every truck that carries NATO supplies into Afghanistan across its border.“We’re not about to get gouged in the price. We want a fair price,” Panetta said on ABC’s Sunday news programme ‘This Week’.Panetta described the use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen to target terrorist targets as absolutely essential ‘to our ability to defend Americans’. Panetta called drone strikes “one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal,” and said that protecting US security by levelling terrorist targets in countries like Pakistan and Yemen takes priority.“And using the operations that we have, using the systems that we have, using the weapons that we have, is absolutely essential to our ability to defend Americans. That’s what counts, and that’s what we’re doing.”Panetta termed sentencing of Dr Shakeel Afridi ‘disturbing’, though he said the US government will continue to ‘work at’ its troubled relationship with Pakistan.Panetta stressed that he wants Pakistan to understand Afridi was working toward a common goal. “This doctor was not working against Pakistan. He was working against Al-Qaeda,” Panetta said. “And I hope that ultimately Pakistan understands that.”“It is so difficult to understand, and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our time,” he said.Panetta, citing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal and ‘critical’ place in the region, said the US and Pakistan would continue to try and work together. “What they have done here does not help in the effort to re-establish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan,” he said and added: “We have to continue to work at it. ... They’re dealing with the terrorist threat just like we are, so our responsibility here is to keep pushing them to understand how important it is for them to work with us to try to deal with the common threats we both face - and what they did with this doctor doesn’t help in the effort to try to do that.”On Afghanistan, the defence secretary defended the Obama administration’s plans to wind down the more than decade-long Afghan war, saying the US is on ‘the right track’. “We still have a fight on our hands,” Panetta said. “The American people need to know that. The world needs to know that ... but we’re on the right track,” he added.“We’re still dealing with the Taliban. Although they’ve been weakened, they are resilient. They’ll continue to conduct attacks. We’ll continue to see IED attacks taking place. We have the concern about the safe haven in Pakistan, the fact that they can seek refuge in that safe haven, that’s a concern … All of those things are continuing challenges,” Panetta said.
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