US officials discussing expanded drone strikes in Pakistan

US officials discussing expanded drone strikes in Pakistan

NEW YORK - Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan has expressed concern over a White House statement saying the U.S. military has been given authority to eliminate militant safe havens in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In an interview with the Urdu service of Voice of America (VOA), the defence minister said he takes the statement "very seriously."

The White House statement was released in an e-mail late Tuesday that listed President Donald Trump's foreign policy accomplishments during his first year in office.

"President Trump's conditions-based South Asia Strategy provides commanders with the authority and resources needed to deny terrorists the safe haven they seek in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the White House statement read.

Reacting to the statement, Khurram Dastgir Khan told VOA, "We want to make it clear to the U.S. that Pakistan is a sovereign country and its sovereignty must be respected."

"Instead of using these words, which can be interpreted in any way, Pakistan should be consulted," he said. "Statements like this are taking us away from peace in Afghanistan," he added. At a Thursday Pentagon press briefing, Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the U.S. military doesn't "contemplate military operations inside Pakistan."

"Through a variety of measures, we look to gain Pakistani cooperation and assistance as we pursue operations in Afghanistan, but no, we're not planning to conduct military operations inside Pakistan," McKenzie said.

Pakistan-U.S. relations have deteriorated rapidly. Last month the Trump administration cut nearly all security aid to Islamabad until the country takes stronger steps to deal with terrorist networks allegedly operating in its territory.

The U.S. has long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens. Pakistan denies the accusation.

According to media reports, U.S. officials are also discussing expanded drone strikes in Pakistan.

Since 2004, the U.S. has carried out hundreds of such drone attacks, mostly along the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan. Those attacks had fallen off in recent years.

In his State of the Union address, Trump did not mention Pakistan directly. But he did say he asked Congress to pass legislation to help ensure that U.S. assistance dollars "always serve American interests, and only go to America's friends."