By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. – The United States continues to negotiate with Pakistan toward a resolution that will lead to the reopening of transport routes that have been closed since November to supplies bound for troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
During a news conference at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, Panetta said it was a positive sign that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari attended the NATO summit that ended today.
“We still have a way to go, but I think the good news is that we are negotiating and that we are making some progress,” Panetta said.
“It is extremely important that ultimately we’re able to open up those lines of communication and transport so that we can expedite the assistance that needs to go to our men and women in uniform who are fighting the battle,” the secretary added.
The countries’ precarious affiliation ruptured Nov. 26 when a cross-border attack by NATO forces at a border coordination center in Afghanistan’s Kunar province killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan also has protested suspected U.S. drone strikes.
At this stage, Panetta said, “I guess I would say that I feel a lot more positive about the effort to try to see if we can find a resolution to that challenge.”
Another continuing challenge associated with Pakistan and Afghanistan involves the Taliban.
“I think we understand that the biggest challenge is a Taliban that is resilient, that is going to continue to fight even though they've been weakened -- and I think the levels of violence are down -- and that they're going to continue to conduct attacks,” the secretary said.
Coalition troops and Afghan national security forces will have to confront that enemy, he said, adding that he has every confidence that the Afghan army can respond effectively and be part of that effort.
“We are still dealing with a resilient enemy that in many ways still has a safe haven in Pakistan,” Panetta said. “And that, I think, represents the greatest threat that we're facing.”