WASHINGTON: The White House and the US military chief indicated on Wednesday that there would be no direct military intervention in countries like Pakistan or Yemen where Al Qaeda seemed to have established its bases.
The White House, however, said that the United States would continue to use “actionable intelligence” to target Al Qaeda hideouts, indicating that drone strikes at suspected terrorist targets would also continue.
In a speech at the George Washington University, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said that for “a big part of the next couple of years (the United States will be focussed on) the execution of this Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy” that President Barack Obama announced on Dec 1.
The debate over direct US military intervention to prevent terrorists from attacking the United States has been reignited after the Christmas Day attack on a Northwest Airlines plane over Detroit. Several lobbies, particularly those on the extreme right, are demanding direct US military actions against suspected terrorist targets, with or without consulting the governments concerned.
Responding to a question about this possibility, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the United States would continue to support actions taken by local authorities against suspected terrorist facilities in their areas.
“We’ll continue to do so and continue to be supportive of those efforts,” he said.
Separately, President Obama told a briefing at the White House on Tuesday that his administration had “taken the fight to Al Qaeda and its allies wherever they plot and train, be it in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen and Somalia, or in other countries around the world”.
At the university in Washington, Admiral Mullen also tackled this question, reminding his audience that countries like Pakistan and Yemen were sovereign states and the United States respected their sovereignty.
“It is a sovereign country and we all recognise that. So we are going to continue to support the Yemeni government in the execution of their strategy to eliminate these terrorists,” said the US military chief when asked about a possible military action against terrorist hideouts in Yemen.
His presentation, however, focussed heavily on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Emphasising Pakistan’s importance in the war against extremists, he said that the US focus could not be limited to just Afghanistan, it had to include Pakistan as well.
“I’ve been to Pakistan one time before I took this job over, and I just made my 14th trip over the last couple of years just to give you an indication of the need to understand, the need to be there, the need to try to see challenges through other people’s eyes and not just take the American view from here in Washington,” he said.
“And I’ve learned a lot, and I think we all have. Very instructive to me has been the policy debate that we had late last year for almost three months about the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The United States, he said, was now in the execution phase of this ‘courageous’ strategy, which has provided him with “the resources we need now to turn it around in Afghanistan”.
Admiral Mullen said that 42 nations supported Mr Obama’s Pak-Afghan strategy, creating “a big international and diplomatic and political and developmental and economic plan that’s associated with executing this strategy over the next couple of years”.
The US military chief said that while he had his concerns about Yemen for at least a year, the policy debate held at the White House late last year focussed on eliminating suspected Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan.
Admiral Mullen said that since 9/11, the United States had taken “an unbelievable number of actions” in Pakistan to prevent possible terrorist attacks.