Pakistan: Ally or Killer?

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Navy photo / Chief MCS Michael Ard

U.S. troops investigate a simulated IED blast in Afghanistan.

Sometimes, like blind men feeling the elephant, you can get a markedly different sense of a situation depending on who is speaking, Check out these two statements, made within hours of one another on opposite sides of the world on Thursday:

Pakistan and its leaders “have indicated a greater willingness to be able…to try to deal with terrorism that affects not just Afghanistan, but affects their country as well.”

— Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Thursday in Kabul.

“Unfortunately, I’ve heard of no progress, or minimal progress…we’ve requested subsequent meetings, and they have not occurred.”

— Army Lieut. General Michael Barbero, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, at a Senate hearing Thursday in Washington.

Barbero was discussing his efforts to sit down with the Fatima Group, the Pakistani company that makes the fertilizer that is used to make the explosive found in more than two-thirds of the improvised explosive devices that are the biggest killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Despite repeated requests, Barbero said he has had only one meeting in 14 months with the Fatima Group over possible steps to curb its fertilizer’s flow into Afghanistan.

Senator Robert Casey, D-Penn., who has been a leader in trying to shut down the river of explosives from Pakistan into Afghanistan, didn’t like what he was hearing.

I want to give, even for a couple of minutes, the benefit of the doubt to the Pakistani government. It often happens in Washington where you’re trying to communicate with an agency and they say, oh, you can’t communicate this way; you have to go through some other office. We get skeptical when that happens in our domestic policy. In light of the — I’ll give you a sense of why I’m skeptical. In light of the track record here of not implementing a strategy that they developed, not having the kind of cooperation that we would expect, when that’s the predicate to an action where they have you communicating more directly, and then, to add insult to injury, having difficulty getting even a meeting or meetings — meetings, plural — I’m a little more than skeptical. So we just put that on the record.

“More than 60% of U.S. combat casualties in Afghanistan, both killed and wounded in action, are the result of IEDs,” Barbero said. “This year, nearly 1,900 U.S. casualties have been caused by IEDs.”

Casey spoke of a couple of constituents’ cases during the hearing. Check out their stories here, in print, or here, in video.