WASHINGTON: The United States has assured Pakistan that it respects the country’s territorial integrity and while doing so also avoided identifying the area where a US drone killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour.
“This was a strike directed against this individual, Mansour, in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. We certainly do respect Pakistan’s territorial integrity,” a US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, told a briefing in Washington.
“But as we’ve said before, we will carry out strikes to remove terrorists who are actively pursuing and planning and directing attacks against US forces.”
Mr Toner said that while the strike reiterated the US determination to eliminate any threat to its troops, it also reflected a political motive to influence the absence of peace talks.
“There can be multiple reasons for it, but I think the primary (reason) … is removing someone who was actively pursuing, planning, carrying out attacks against US and Afghan forces in the region.”
Mr Toner also made it clear that the United States would continue striking terrorists posing threats to US forces
When a reporter asked him to pinpoint the area where Mullah Mansour was killed, the US official said: “I don’t have any more clarity of where the actual strike took place. What I can say is, in that border region. I just can’t say on which side of the border it was.”
Mr Toner, however, disagreed with the suggestion that he was questioning Pakistan’s claim that the Taliban leader was killed on its territory. “The Pakistani government is able to speak on behalf of itself. I’m not going to doubt its claim. I’m just saying the information we… are willing to share is that it was in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.”
Mr Toner also made it clear that the United States would continue striking terrorists posing threats to US forces.
“We certainly do respect Pakistan’s territorial integrity, but as we’ve said before, we will carry out strikes to remove terrorists who are actively pursuing and planning and directing attacks against US forces,” he said.
The official also said that the Obama administration would continue to talk to Pakistan about how to collaborate and cooperate on rooting out the terrorist groups that “continue to use Pakistan’s territory to carry out attacks”.
The strike, he said, “sends a clear message that those who target our people and the Afghan people are not going to be given a safe haven”.
The only option available to the Taliban was to “pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict”, he added.
This, he said, was “a clear choice” and now it was up to the Taliban to accept it or not.
“There are ways to… identify the fact that you’re willing to engage in a peaceful way. And, frankly, Mansour showed absolutely no predilection towards engaging in any kind of peaceful political process.”
While acknowledging that the Taliban had not yet been defeated, he said their choice to opt for violent means had reduced.
“If you’re going to carry out attacks, if you’re going to lead attacks against our forces and against Afghanistan’s forces, then you’re going to be targeted and you’re not going to have safe haven,” he said.
The drone strike, he said, sent the message to the Taliban to decide what their future would be and whether they could be part of “a peaceful political future for Afghanistan”.