He said that not only political leaders of all parties, but also the Pakistani people, realize swift and effective action must be taken against the Taliban in Pakistan. The shift of forces from eastern Pakistan, facing India, to the western border region is an example of this realization, Petraeus said.
The Pakistanis understand this is inherently different from a traditional military campaign, the general said, noting conversations he’s had over the past week with Pakistani leaders. Those talks underscored that the campaign against the Taliban will require a whole-of-government approach.
The effort to defeat the Taliban and other terrorists cannot simply be a military attack, Petraeus said, but rather must involve “all the rest of the elements of the government supporting the military so they can re-establish basic services, fix the damage that is inevitably done by the bombardment of these areas where the Taliban are located, and to take care of the internally displaced persons.”
Calling these times “very important” and “pivotal,” Petraeus said the next few weeks will tell if the Pakistanis can roll back this existential threat to the government and nation.
Petraeus said he is confident that the Pakistanis maintain good security at nuclear weapons sites in the nation.
“We have confidence in their security procedures and elements, and believe that the security at these sites is adequate,” he said.
The general would not say whether the United States would guarantee the weapons’ security. “I should point out that this is not a U.S. fight that Pakistan is carrying out in this effort,” he said. “This is a Pakistani fight, a Pakistani battle with elements that threaten the very existence of the Pakistani state.”
Petraeus said al-Qaida leaders are in the federally administered tribal areas of western Pakistan. “There is no question that al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been there and been in operation for years,” he said. “We had to contend with its reach as it sought to facilitate the flow of foreign fighters, weapons, resources into Iraq through Syria.”
Though he said he agrees with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that al-Qaida no longer operates in Afghanistan, groups affiliated with the terror organization operate there and elsewhere. Al-Qaida’s tentacles connect groups in the Arabian Peninsula, in Somalia and in North Africa, Petraeus said.
“It strives to reach, of course, all the way into Europe and the United States,” he added. Petraeus said he believes al-Qaida’s top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are in the border region of western Pakistan.
The organization has had significant losses over the past year, “and there is a good deal of disruption that has taken place, but that is transitory in nature, and we’ll have to see how the [Pakistani] security operations in the federally administered tribal areas go,” the general said.