Appearing on Capitol Hill today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen maintained their hard-line stance that Pakistan has to do more to rein in the Haqqani Network that uses safe havens on the Pakistani side of the border to launch attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Mullen even went so far as to say that Pakistan is "exporting violence" and that Pakistan's intelligence agency provided the Haqqanis with support for their recent terror attacks in Kabul.
Mullen went further than defense officials who've said that the Haqqani Network was responsible for the recent terror attacks in Kabul prior to former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination, although the bomber's affiliation has yet to be determined.
The Haqqanis are "veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency [ISI]," he said in opening remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that it had provided the Haqqanis with support to conduct the Kabul attacks.
"With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted the truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy," Mullen said of the recent attack on a base in Wardak that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers. "We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations."
Both Mullen and Panetta described the turn to high-profile attacks in Afghanistan as a shift in tactics because insurgents are losing on the battlefield. Mullen said they are "as much about headlines and playing on the fears of a traumatized people, as they are about inflicting casualties, maybe even more so."
He added, "We must not misconstrue them. They are serious and significant in shaping perceptions but they do not represent a sea change in the odds of military success."
Mullen said Pakistan's government has chosen to "use violent extremism as an instrument of policy," which jeopardizes its relationship with the United States and its role as a player in the region.
Speaking of its support for the Haqqani Network, Mullen said, "they may believe that by using these proxies they are hedging their bets, or redressing what they feel is an imbalance of regional power. But, in reality, they have already lost that bet."
He added that by "exporting violence, they have eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being."
Panetta said that in recent high-profile meetings with Pakistani officials, U.S. officials have conveyed "a very clear message to them and to others that they must take steps to prevent the safe haven that the Haqqanis are using.
"We simply cannot allow these kinds of terrorists to be able to go into Afghanistan, attack our forces, and then return to Pakistan for safe haven and not face any kind of pressure from the Pakistanis for that to stop."
Panetta called the existence of safe havens "not tolerable" and "unacceptable," and said continued U.S. pressure on Pakistan's leaders was the only way they would get that message. "The only way to deal with the Pakistanis, " he said, "is to keep giving them a clear message of where the lines are. "
Asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whether the United States and Pakistan are on a collision course if something doesn't change, Panetta said, "it has to change, we can't continue the situation that's there now."
Panetta declined to reveal what options the United States might have available to prevent the Haqqanis from conducting more attacks against U.S. forces, as he said last week, but said they would not be a surprise to Pakistan.
"I've made very clear," he said, "that we will do everything necessary to protect our forces. I haven't spelled that out to them, but I would be very surprised if they were surprised by what we did to fulfill that commitment.
Today's hearing was Panetta's first congressional appearance since becoming defense secretary in July. It is also Mullen's final appearance before his term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ends next Friday.