US to boost help to Pakistan in fight against terror groups

ISLAMABAD - The US is set to step up its security and intelligence efforts as the Pakistani government moves against militants in its restive northwest, top diplomat John Kerry said Tuesday on a visit after a shocking school massacre.

Pakistan began a full-scale offensive against Taliban and other militants in the North Waziristan tribal district in June, a long standing demand of Washington which had for years called for action against groups that used the region to launch cross-border attacks against US troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Pakistan's national security advisor Sartaj Aziz, Kerry said Pakistan deserved "enormous credit" for the operation but warned the task was not yet complete.

"I emphasised that the US is committed to deepening our security relationship with Pakistan in order to eliminate threats in the border area and elsewhere," the US secretary of state told reporters.

Last month's massacre at a school in Pakistan by the Pakistani Taliban which left 150 dead, mostly schoolboys, triggered global outrage, with the government announcing it would form military courts and end a moratorium on the death penalty for convicted militants.

Pakistan executed seven militants on Tuesday, bringing to 16 the total number killed since December.

"The tragedy of December 16 is really a reminder of the serious risk of allowing extremists to find space, and be able to command that space and operate within it," Kerry said.

Pakistani officials have said that Kerry plans to visit Peshawar, but the State Department has not confirmed such plans, and the top US diplomat was due to leave later Friday for Geneva.

Kerry warned that all terror groups such as both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba "continue to pose a threat not just to Pakistan and its neighbours but also to the United States and the world."

'It is not done'

"Make no mistake the task is a difficult one and it is not done," Kerry said.

"We all have a responsibility to ensure that these extremists are no longer able to secure a foothold in this country or elsewhere." Washington has pressed Islamabad for years to wipe out militant sanctuaries in lawless tribal areas such as North Waziristan, which have been used to launch attacks on NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Many believe Pakistan's security services see the Haqqanis as an "asset" and maintain close links with them.

But Aziz vowed Tuesday that Pakistan would take action "without discrimination against all groups" seen as spreading terror both in Pakistan and its neighbours, and that no group would be spared.

Both leaders put the fight against terror attacks at the top of their agendas, insisting security was vital to ensure Pakistan's long-term stability and prosperity.

"Over the past six decades our relations have seen their share of peaks and troughs, but even at the most difficult of times both sides have never wavered in their desire to remain engaged," Aziz told the opening of the meeting.

"Investing in Pakistan... its political stability and enhancing its capacity to take on the challenges of extremism and terrorism is in both our interests," the Pakistani official added.

There have been a series of Pakistani airstrikes in the restive northwest.

On Tuesday the US was to announce that some $250 million of already appropriated funds to combat militancy will be "earmarked for North Waziristan, marked for reconstruction, including for" some 700,000 people displaced by the offensive.

The money would go towards food, shelter, health as well as the livestock which the locals depend on.