WASHINGTON, May 19, 2009 – The United States fully supports Pakistani operations against the Taliban and other terror groups, a senior Defense Department spokesman said today.
At a news conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also discussed U.S. efforts to avoid inflicting civilian casualties in Afghanistan while fighting an enemy that intentionally places civilians in peril.
The United States has been pressing Pakistan for months to act as Taliban fighters increased their control over portions of the federally administered tribal areas and in the Swat Valley, Buner and Dir areas of Pakistan.
Morrell called the operations in the area the largest counterinsurgency fight in Pakistan’s history. “They have shown a persistence in waging it, and we want to be nothing but encouraging of them continuing to do so,” he said during a Pentagon news conference.
Pakistani officials estimate that between 800,000 and 900,000 people in the region have become refugees. “The end is to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire,” Morrell said. “So people are encouraged to leave war zones, so that they do not become unwitting victims of the Pakistani military’s efforts to go after terrorists who have shown complete and utter disregard for the safety and well-being of their neighbors and other innocent civilians in their midst.”
Pakistan is setting up refugee camps to handle those fleeing the fighting, and the United States and other nations are prepared to send aid.
In Afghanistan, civilian casualties in Farah remain in the news. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry visited an area where close-air support was used against Taliban terrorists when U.S. aircraft dropped ordnance in support of an Afghan security forces operation.
“The initial indication from things looks as though the close-air support was very measured, and that there was a great deal of care to ensure that … it was proportional to the threat faced by the forces on the ground,” Morrell said.
Morrell called the attacks – and possible civilian casualties – the sad reality of war against the Taliban.
“We face an opponent that shows complete and utter disregard for human life; that’s willing to behead innocent civilians; that’s willing to put other innocents in harm’s way so that they can advance a propaganda campaign and paint us as … the aggressor, as the one who does not care for the well-being of the Afghan people,” he said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The United States regrets the loss of any innocent lives in Farah or other battles, Morrell said. No other military takes the measures to minimize civilian losses that the U.S. military does, he said.
“And our opponent, perhaps more than almost any enemy that we’ve faced in modern times, shows complete and utter disregard” for civilian lives.