Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has decided that the Pentagon will not give Pakistan the remainder of a key U.S. military reimbursement fund allotted to the country for 2016, a move that could signal a burgeoning hard-line approach by the Trump administration toward Islamabad.
The Pentagon announced the move to withhold $50 million in “coalition support funds” in a statement Friday, saying it had determined Pakistan had not taken “sufficient action” against the Haqqani network, the Taliban offshoot responsible for numerous attacks on civilians and military targets in neighboring Afghanistan. Reuters was first to report on the development.
“This decision does not reduce the significance of the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has undertaken over previous years,” said Adam Stump, a Pentagon spokesman, in the statement.
The move comes less than a year after Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter decided to withhold $300 million from the same fund for the same reason: that Pakistan was not going after the Haqqani militants.
For fiscal 2016, Pakistan was allotted $900 million in coalition support funds, $550 million of which Islamabad has already received. The Pentagon said that $300 million, however, had already been withheld and redistributed, meaning that there are no more of the funds available to Pakistan from its 2016 allotment. The Coalition Support Fund is the main source of military assistance for Pakistan and is considered a reimbursement for Pakistan’s military support for U.S. operations in the region.
In the statement, Stump said the 2016 funds had to be “released or reprogrammed” before their expiration. He added that the decision to withhold the funds does not “prejudge” the White House and Pentagon’s upcoming strategy for Afghanistan and the surrounding region, now known as the “South Asia Strategy.”
“[The Coalition Support Fund] is just one component of the United States’ broad and enduring partnership with Pakistan,” Stump said.
In this year’s budget, Pakistan is authorized another $900 million, $400 million of which could be withheld for similar reasons again. Pakistan has received more than $14 billion in coalition support funds since 2002, according to the Pentagon.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for a spate of recent attacks in Afghanistan, including the May suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people in a crowded Kabul intersection and a sophisticated infiltration of an Afghan military base in Mazar-e Sharif that killed or wounded more than 100 Afghan soldiers in April.
“Pakistan still has time to take action against the Haqqani Network in order to influence the Secretary’s certification decision in,” Stump said.
Mattis recently told lawmakers that the Pentagon’s new approach in Afghanistan would focus more on Pakistan, a country long seen as a problem by U.S. officials because of its lawless border regions where Taliban and Haqqani militants often encamp and regroup before flowing back toward Kabul. Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Washington has often made pledges to put more pressure on Pakistan to help stem the tide of fighters moving back and forth between the two countries. Despite some Pakistani military operations in the region, little progress has been made.
The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has long been considered particularly transactional in nature, and it deteriorated after the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after years of him apparently living there, not far from a Pakistani military academy.
In budget documents last year, the Defense Department said that it intended to continue reimbursing the Pakistani government for military operations, calling Pakistan a “key ally” in the counterterrorism campaign since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The documents cited the Pakistani military setting up observation posts along the Afghanistan border, providing logistical support and carrying out maritime patrols in waterways as examples.