WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama ruled out sending US troops on a hot pursuit of extremists across the Afghan border into Pakistan - but demanded Islamabad hold up its end of the anti-terror struggle.
Referring to US missile strikes on militants, Obama said in a television interview: "If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we're going after them."
But asked on CBS program "Face the Nation" if he would order US troops on the ground into militant safe havens inside Pakistan, Obama stressed: "No.
"Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government," he said. "We need to work with them and through them to deal with Al-Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable."
Obama on Friday put Pakistan at the center of the fight against Al-Qaeda as part of a new strategy dispatching 4,000 more troops, in addition to an extra 17,000 already committed, and billions of dollars to the Afghan war.
Asked if this was now his personal war, Obama said: "I think it's America's war."
"And the focus over the last seven years I think has been lost. What we want to do is to refocus attention on Al-Qaeda," he said in a reference to predecessor George W. Bush's diversion of resources to Iraq.
"We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are going to make sure that they cannot attack US citizens, US soil, US interests, and our allies' interests around the world."
With Pakistan subject to a renewed US focus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged its powerful intelligence service to cut contacts with extremists in Afghanistan, which he called an "existential threat" to Pakistan itself.
Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence has had links with extremists "for a long time, as a hedge against what might happen in Afghanistan if we were to walk away or whatever," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
"They can count on us and they don't need that hedge," Gates said, citing the ISI's links specifically to the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani militant network and to the forces of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Obama said reports of ISI links to Afghan extremists "aren't new," and attacked the notion "among the average Pakistani that this is somehow America's war and that they are not invested."
"And that attitude I think has led to a steady creep of extremism in Pakistan that is the greatest threat to the stability of the Pakistan government, and ultimately the greatest threat to the Pakistani people."
Obama said his planned tripling of US aid for Pakistan would strengthen the nuclear-armed nation's economy and basic services, and so erode support for terrorism.
Ahead of an international meeting on Afghanistan in The Netherlands on Monday, he added the new US strategy "doesn't just rely on bullets or bombs but also relies on agricultural specialists, on doctors, on engineers."
Development work in both Afghanistan and Pakistan would encourage people to see "they have much more at stake in partnering with us and the international community, than (in) giving in to some of these extremist ideologies."
Gates was asked about a weekend New York Times report that US military commanders had pressed Obama for even more troops for Afghanistan.
"The president has approved every single soldier that I have requested of him," the Pentagon chief said, in remarks echoed on CNN by General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command.
"And the reality is there already are a lot of troops there," Gates added. "This will bring us, when all is said and done, to 68,000 troops plus another 35,000 or so Europeans and other partners."
Republican Senator John McCain, Obama's defeated opponent for the White House, said "the outlines of this proposal are good" but that he would have sent more new troops, in the order of 10,000.
His own message to the US public would be that "it's going to be long and hard and tough," McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
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