WASHINGTON – The U.S. maintained its support Monday for continued Pakistani counterterror strikes, despite a new Pakistani Taliban threat to launch more attacks like its deadly weekend airport assault if Islamabad does not agree to a permanent cease-fire.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to comment on the specific threat by Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid a day after the extremist group said it stormed the international airport in Karachi in a five-hour siege that killed 18. It was a brazen pushback to weeks of airstrikes by Pakistani troops that have killed dozens of suspected militants in the country's northwest.
But Harf said Pakistan must protect its citizens with appropriate counterterror measures.
"We have supported the Pakistani government as they've undertaken counterterrorism efforts, because it's a fight we certainly share," Harf told reporters at the State Department.
Asked about the Pakistani Taliban's demand for a permanent cease-fire, Harf said they and other terror groups "should stop attacking innocent civilians. I think the Pakistani government has a responsibility to protect their people and that there's no equivalency between the two in any way."
Efforts to broker peace between the Pakistani Taliban and the U.S.-allied government in Islamabad have been shelved in recent weeks, and Sunday's attacks and new threats Monday have heightened doubt that a new cease-fire will be reached in the near future. The Pakistani Taliban called off a cease-fire in place during past negotiations, prompting government airstrikes that residents say also have killed civilians.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said whether to reconcile with the Taliban is a strategic decision that Pakistan's government will have to make.
He also condemned the airport attack and said Americans' hearts go outs to the families of the victims and those who were wounded.