Britain has offered its full backing for a renewed military offensive inside Pakistan, as UK ministers confirmed the country was now “part of a single campaign” alongside Afghanistan.
Defence secretary John Hutton said the UK supported targeting Pakistan-based Taliban and al-Qaida positions and urged Europe to begin offering assistance to eradicate insurgents in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
Confirming that Britain was being drawn into a widening regional conflict, Hutton said the time had come to target Taliban and al-Qaida havens inside Pakistan. In his most explicit statement of intent against Afghanistan’s troubled neighbour, Hutton said that the military objectives in the region must now have “an equal focus on both countries”.
He added: “AQ [al-Qaida] is in retreat, scuttling across the border into Pakistan. Trying to buy time. Desperate to regroup. That is why there must be no let-up … there can be no escape, no hiding place.”
He indicated that Britain, which has deep historical ties with Pakistan and remains its largest trading partner in Europe, must play a principal role in supporting the American military effort in the region.
The defence secretary said: “In Europe, we can no longer offload the tough questions about how we deal effectively with AQ and the Taliban in Pakistan to the US.