Image: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan's intelligence agency asked U.S. officials to meet with a representative of the Haqqani network, a group considered to be a major threat to American forces in Afghanistan.
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updated 10/27/2011 4:33:46 PM ET 2011-10-27T20:33:46

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said bluntly Thursday that U.S. outreach to gauge the Taliban-linked Haqqani network's interest in peace talks after more than a decade of war was answered with "an attack on our embassy" in Afghanistan.

Testifying before skeptical members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton defended the apparent contradiction of U.S. pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani group, considered a major threat to American forces in Afghanistan, and efforts to engage elements of the network for possible negotiations.

The Obama administration sees a peace deal with the Taliban as critical to ending the war in Afghanistan, now in its 11th year. Clinton described how the attempt at outreach was largely futile.

"This was done in part because I think the Pakistanis hope to be able to move the Haqqani network toward some kind of peace negotiation, and the answer was an attack on our embassy," Clinton told the committee.

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Clinton said Pakistan's intelligence agency asked U.S. officials to meet with a representative of the Haqqani network. Clinton recently confirmed the summer meeting, first reported by The Associated Press.

'Very serious questions'
Then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told Congress last month that the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida, "acts as a veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence agency. Mullen accused the network of staging an attack against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on Sept. 13 as well as a truck bombing that wounded 77 American soldiers. He claimed Pakistan's spy agency helped the group.

"These events raise very serious questions about Pakistan's commitment to work with us to defeat the terrorists that threaten Pakistan, and U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan," said Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the committee. "This behavior must stop."

Story: Clinton warns Pakistan: 'You can't keep snakes in your backyard'

The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has reached a low point, due in part to the U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan last May to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and to American complaints about Islamabad's unwillingness to crack down on terrorism. Lawmakers have challenged the Obama administration's request for U.S. taxpayer dollars to aid Pakistan, imposing conditions on financial assistance in various spending bills.

Clinton said she would be sending an updated request to Congress next week.

Among the continuing problems, a top U.S. general said Thursday that cross-border radio communications with Pakistan's military collapsed after the raid that killed bin Laden and are still not consistent or up to what the U.S. would like to see.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who directs day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan, said officials are trying to re-establish military communications along the border, particularly between Afghan and Pakistani units that are facing each other.

Members of the Foreign Affairs committee sought clarity in U.S. policy, with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the committee chairwoman, trying to understand both the outreach to the Haqqani network and U.S. calls for Pakistan to get tough with the group.

'A little bit of both'
During her recent trip to Pakistan, Clinton said if the government in Islamabad is unwilling or unable to take the fight to al-Qaida and the Haqqani network operating from its border with Afghanistan, the U.S. "would show" it how to eliminate its safe havens.

"So which is it ... crackdown or negotiate with the Haqqani network or a little bit of both?" Ros-Lehtinen asked.

"It's both," Clinton said. "We want to fight, talk and build all at the same time. Part of the reason for that is to test whether these organizations have any willingness to negotiate in good faith. ... There's evidence going both ways, to be clear. Sometimes we hear that they will, that there are elements within each that wish to pursue that, and then other times that it's off the table."

Story: NATO captures senior Haqqani leader in Afghanistan

Days after a whirlwind trip to Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clinton sought to explain U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to war-weary lawmakers wondering about the timetable more than a decade after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The United States has about 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to bring most forces home by 2015. It intends to withdraw the 33,000 additional troops that President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan in 2009 by the end of the fighting season in 2012, 10,000 of them by the end of this year. About 3,000 of those have already left.

Clinton said the United States is sticking to that timetable for the military, but there will be a civilian U.S. presence after 2014.

Lawmakers also have expressed outrage over Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent statement that his country would back Pakistan if it went to war with the United States.

In an interview that aired this past weekend, Karzai told a private Pakistani television station: "If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan. If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you."

He said his government would not allow any nation, including the United States, to dictate its policies.

Hearing the remarks, Clinton said she asked U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker to find out about Karzai's comments. She said Crocker indicated that it was a reflection of the decades-long cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and added the comments were "both taken out of context and misunderstood."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Engel: Kabul attack serious, but not most serious

  1. Closed captioning of: Engel: Kabul attack serious, but not most serious

    >>> and pakistan is blaming a group with ties to al qaeda for the attack on the u.s. embassy in kabul . the 20-hour gun battle ended this morning killing 20 civilians, police and insurgents. ambassador ryan crocker is downplaying the importance of the attack.

    >> this is really not a very big deal . you know, look, half a dozen rpg rounds from 800 meters away is not tet, but harassment.

    >> joining me is richard engle, and what is going on?

    >> well, i have to agree with the ambassador, because it is an attack, but not one of the more recently ones. and it got headlines because of the way that the attack was carried out, and we have more details of what happened.

    >> yeah, tell us about that because yesterday you and i were talking.

    >> it was seven militants and we were talking yesterday we weren't sure if it is four or ten, but now they are all killed so people know. seven militants went into a 13-story building unfinished building that overlooks from as the ambassador said --

    >> it is tall for that area?

    >> yes, one of the tall nest the aear -- tallest in the area, and overlooks the embassy compound, and these militants may have been disguised in burqas the all-afghan female cloak and went up on the roof and started to fire rocket-propelled grenades on the nato compound and u.s. embassy and they are out of range.

    >> it was pretty scary.

    >> terrifying, i'm sure. and six of these rocket propelled grenades did land inside of the embassy compound grounds, so it is not that nothing happened, but they are way out of their range. rocket propelled grenades are only effective for a couple of hundred yards, so to be firing them from a building like that, it is more like harassing fire as opposed the a devastating focused assault.

    >> and let's talk about perception though, because all of this is playing out in the context of what do we do about the budget deficit and questions about our role in afghanistan. what is the security situation right now on the ground, and especially in kabul ?

    >> the security situation is not good, and it is not good because the taliban are -- it is hard to say if they are getting stronger, but they are perceived to be getting stronger, because the afghan government is not perceived to be taking control of the situation. so a lot of of the people who were sitting on the fence are not necessarily siding with the taliban , but not taking any actions to stop the taliban and when you have that kind of indecisiveness, it does help the militants. you could walk around kabul . it is not that there are car bombs exploding on every corner, because businesses do function, but it is not a situation where the government is in control.

    >> what does it mean for the overall security there with the pentagon announcing they will cut 1.6 billion cost of the training of afghan forces?

    >> well, i think that they can find that if they crackdown on corruption, but it is not the amount of money spent, but the amount of money lost to corruption, and because so much money has been poured into training programs an rehabilitation programs an reconstruction prograrnlgs there -- program, so there is a lot of money to steal. so ramping it up does not mean less product, but less corruption.

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