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As Afghan Strategy Develops, Clinton Focuses On Pakistan

October 30, 2009 at 6:03 PM EDT
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President Obama called in his national security team to the White House on Friday to review U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended a trip designed to smooth ties between Washington and Islamabad.
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JIM LEHRER: The U.S. military’s top brass talked Afghan war policy with the commander in chief today. And the secretary of state defended American military strikes in Pakistan.

Ray Suarez has our lead story report.

RAY SUAREZ: The president’s sit-down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff came at the end of a week that saw 22 Americans killed in Afghanistan. Fifty-six have died this month, the most since the war began in 2001.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Obama again wrestled with the question of sending more troops to Afghanistan in his seventh high-level strategy session so far.

White House officials have continued to say the president will decide in the coming weeks. On Thursday, in Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she envisions the decision coming some time after Afghanistan’s presidential runoff election on November 7.

Today, Clinton focused again on smoothing U.S. relations with Pakistan. At a town hall in Islamabad, before an audience made up mostly of women, she faced strong criticism over attacks by U.S. drone aircraft that target militants, but sometimes kill civilians as well.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: There is a war going on, as several of you have said.

And I won’t comment on that specific matter, because of the fact that, if you look at what has to be done in this war, the Pakistani military is using what are called F-16s. These are very powerful planes that drop bombs. And, in a war, you go after the people who are your enemies, but, sometimes, and regrettably, sometimes, that’s not the only people who get caught up in it.

RAY SUAREZ: At the same time, the secretary faced new questions about her suggestion that Pakistan has not seriously pursued all al-Qaida leaders hiding in the country.

On Thursday, she told Pakistani reporters, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to.”

Today, Clinton appeared to soften her stance somewhat.

She spoke to Tge NewsHour’s Margaret Warner in Islamabad.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying there that you think there are people in significant positions in the government who are complicit in protecting them?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: No, but what I am saying and I think the context is as you portrayed it — I respect their perceptions, whether or not they comport with what I believe to be the reality of their not trusting us on a range of issues. But, in order to have the kind of partnership that we are seeking between our two countries, the trust deficit goes both ways.

RAY SUAREZ: The Pakistanis have insisted they are taking the fight to terrorists. Today, the army claimed it’s closing in on a major Taliban base in South Waziristan.