“It is an increasing concern that the safe haven exists and that there are those — likely Haqqanis — who are making use of that to attack our forces," Panetta said.
The Haqqanis operating out of Pakistan is one of the major concerns that NATO forces have as they draw down and hand off security control to the Afghans in 2014.
The militant group, which lawmakers are pushing the Obama administration to label a terrorist organization, has been one source of frustration in deteriorating U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Washington and Islamabad are still negotiating to reopen supply routes into Afghanistan, which Pakistan closed last year after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO troops on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Panetta has repeatedly given Pakistan a tongue-lashing on his weeklong trip through Asia, urging Pakistan to do more about terrorists and defending U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan — another area of U.S.-Pakistani tension. Panetta said Wednesday that drone strikes against terrorists in Pakistan would continue.
Panetta is in Afghanistan for the fourth time as Defense secretary. He’s on the trip to speak with Afghanistan commander Gen. John Allen and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and said he’s there to assess the threats from the Taliban and Haqqanis.