Jim Watson / Reuters
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, speaks with Afghanistan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak during a joint news conference Thursday at the Ministry of Defense in Kabul.
KABUL -- The United States is reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan because it provides safe havens to insurgents from neighboring Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
Speaking in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Panetta used some of the strongest language by a senior U.S. official to describe the strained ties between Washington and Islamabad.
"It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan," said Panetta, who was holding talks with military leaders amid rising violence in the war against the Taliban. "It is very important for Pakistan to take steps. It is an increasing concern, the issue of safe haven, and we are reaching the limits of our patience."
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States said Panetta's comments would make it harder for the two countries to narrow their differences.
"It adds an unhelpful twist to the process and leaves little oxygen for those of us seeking to break a stalemate," Pakistan's envoy, Sherry Rehman, said in a statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday implicitly defended Washington's use of drone strikes against suspected militants, just days after one of them killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaida's second-ranking leader, in northwest Pakistan.
"We will always maintain our right to use force against groups such as al-Qaida that have attacked us and still threaten us with imminent attack," Clinton said in Istanbul at a meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a U.S.-and Turkish-chaired group.
The White House confirmed the death of deputy al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, believed to rank second in the organization. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
A senior U.S. official acknowledged Thursday that the recent increase in drone strikes on insurgents in Pakistan — targeting mostly al-Qaida but other militants as well — is partly a result of frustration with Islamabad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.
Panetta urged Pakistan to go after the Haqqani militant network, one of the United States' most feared enemies in Afghanistan, and said Washington would exert diplomatic pressure and take any other steps needed to protect its forces.
"It is an increasing concern that safe havens exist and those like the Haqqanis make use of that to attack our forces," he said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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