FILE - In this this file photo, media and local residents gather outside the compound where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Photo: AP/Anjum Naveed


US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that it was “difficult to achieve a secure Afghanistan as long as there is a safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan.”

“It is very important that Pakistan takes steps to deal with this threat,” Panetta told reporters at a press conference with his Afghan counterpart.

“We have made that clear time and time again ... that it's a terrible situation to have – those attacking our people, our forces, have the convenience of being able to return to a safe haven in Pakistan,” Panetta said during an unannounced visit to Kabul.

“It's an increasing concern that these safe havens exist and that there are those like the Haqqanis who are making use of that to attack our forces,” he added, referring to an insurgent group working under the Taliban umbrella, allegedly based in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

This was Panetta's fourth visit to Afghanistan and came a day after at least 41 people were killed in several security incidents in the country.

Two suicide bombers in the southern province of Kandahar killed 23 people, while an alleged Nato airstrike killed 18 in the eastern province of Logar. Afghan officials said the victims in Logar included civilians, but Nato said only insurgents were killed.

The defence secretary said the US was reaching “a limit of patience” regarding Pakistan, adding that it was “extremely important that Pakistan take actions to prevent this kind of safe haven from allowing terrorists to use their country as safety net.”

Washington and Kabul have been accusing Islamabad of not doing enough to destroy these alleged safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan, from where the Taliban and offshoot insurgent groups are believed to have been plotting attacks on the Afghan and international forces.

The Taliban have been waging a deadly insurgency, which is in the eleventh year now. Last year was the deadliest in terms of civilian casualties, according to the UN, as more than 3 000 were killed.

Panetta sought to project progress saying that, despite difficult challenges and setbacks, “we have moved closer to achieving our objectives here in Afghanistan.”

“During the past year we have maintained pressure on the Taliban, denying them the ability to regain lost territory. Their momentum has been broken and they have been weakened,” Panetta said.

He said the “uptick in violence in recent days” was still lower than “all levels of violence from past years.”

Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said that a failure to address the issue of safe havens would make the endeavour to achieve a safer Afghanistan “much more difficult.”

He said that better coordination and cooperation between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US would enable the security forces to address the issue of Taliban safe havens in Pakistan.

“We do hope that gradually they will come to the conclusion to cooperate with us and then I think, if that cooperation starts, we will be able to disrupt their command and control, to disrupt their training, to disrupt their weapon procurement,” Wardak said in the joint press conference with Panetta.

Panetta came to Kabul from New Delhi where he had urged India to extend its training programme for Afghan troops.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided to cut short a trip to China amid the allegations of civilian deaths in Nato's airstrike on eastern Afghanistan, the presidential palace said in a statement.

“Nato operations that inflict human and material losses to civilians can in no way be justifiable, acceptable and tolerable,” Karzai was quoted as saying in the statement. – Sapa-dpa