WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States offered further counterterrorism help to Pakistan on Tuesday after a deadly Taleban attack on a school, and US officials said privately they expect stronger Pakistani resolve in fighting the insurgents.
President Barack Obama said the raid, which killed at least 132 students and nine staff at a military-run high school in the city of Peshawar, was an act of “depravity” and he promised that Washington would back Pakistan against the militants.
But the raid underscores regional instability at a time when the United States is preparing to withdraw most of its troops by year-end from neighbouring Afghanistan, where attacks have intensified by Afghan Taleban fighters who share the radical extremist ideology of their Pakistani brethren.
“We stand with the people of Pakistan and reiterate the commitment of the United States to support the government in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism and to promote peace and stability in the region,” Obama said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States was offering counterterrorism assistance to Pakistan but declined to provide specifics.
The United States has given Pakistan $18 billion in security aid since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service. It has also used unmanned drones to kill hundreds of militants there, though civilian deaths in the strikes have stoked public anger.
US officials said privately that they now expect a tougher crackdown on the Taleban by Pakistani security forces in retaliation for Tuesday’s attack on the school, where many of the students were children of military personnel.
But Washington stopped short of openly calling for stronger Pakistani military action, mindful that this might backfire by making the army appear to be doing America’s bidding in a country where anti-US sentiment runs high.
Washington and Islamabad have long been uneasy allies, though relations have improved since 2011 when US commandos killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid that Pakistan called a violation of its sovereignty.
“We want to be behind the scenes on this,” said Shamila Chaudhary, a former top Obama adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan. “It doesn’t help the Pakistanis if the US is public about this.”
The Pakistani military has recently stepped up an offensive in the country’s tribal areas against the Taleban, and the militants said Tuesday’s attack was to take revenge against the government for “targeting our families and females.”