U.S. 'Dissatisfied' With Pakistan's Reluctance to Quell Haqqani Network

Joint Chiefs chairman's comments underscore the shakiness of always-strained US-Pakistan relations.

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U.S. officials remain "extraordinarily dissatisfied" with Pakistan's unwillingness to take on an extremist group that operates from its soil, underscoring the shakiness in relations between Washington and Islamabad.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday that American officials remain frustrated with Pakistani officials' handling of the Haqqani Network, which operates from northwest Pakistan. The independent extremist group—which has increasingly been a focal point for U.S. national security officials and lawmakers as of late—has carried out a handful of deadly attacks since last September, according to Pentagon officials.

"We are extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect Pakistan has had on the Haqqanis," Dempsey says.

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Washington has pressed Islamabad to take the fight to the Haqqani network for several years, but to no avail.

However, U.S. officials understand how important Pakistan is to their strategy in the region. Dempsey quickly pointed out Pakistani troops have been fighting and dying in battles with other groups in their northwest region for years.

The Haqqani group "has become more active" as a result, claiming responsibility for recent deadly attacks in Kabul and at a U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan.

"They are rising in importance in our view," Dempsey says.

Dempsey's comments come amid renewed tensions between the two nations. U.S. officials and lawmakers were angered when the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA gather intelligence on Osama bin Laden's compound was sentenced to 38 years in prison. Angry American lawmakers responded to the sentence by threatening—again—to cut off all U.S. aid to Pakistan.

What's more, sources say U.S. officials involved in talks to re-open American and NATO supply routes in Pakistan are increasingly frustrated with their Pakistani counterparts.

"The current situation does not bode well for U.S.-Pakistan relations, with both nations engaged in what can best be characterized as a highly political cat fight," Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, a former National Counterterrorism Center official, and Hijab Shah, wrote in a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies white paper.

"The U.S. Senate has threatened further cuts in aid if Pakistan does not reopen its NATO supply routes, yet Pakistan no doubt will continue to keep the supply routes closed until the United States apologizes for the Salala incident," the CSIS analysts write, referring to a November 2011 U.S. air strike that killed dozens of Pakistani soldiers, prompting Pakistan to shutter the supply lines.

"The United States is angry with Pakistan for its hesitation to cut ties with the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba," Nelson and Shah wrote, "while Pakistan condemns continued U.S. strikes within its sovereign territory."

What will it take to mend relations? The answer, say Nelson and Shah, is for the American operation in Afghanistan to end.

"The U.S. draw down from Afghanistan represents a unique opportunity to reset the relationship between the United States and Pakistan," the analysts write. "Afghanistan is the issue at the core of the two countries' turbulent relationship and has been the primary source of friction for the past decade. As the United States withdraws, this friction will likely begin to decrease."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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