- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
The Pentagon is withholding hundreds of millions of dollars meant to reimburse Pakistan for its fight against terrorist groups, citing Islamabad’s failure to take “sufficient action” against the Haqqani Network, an offshoot of the Taliban based in Pakistan.
The announcement on Friday comes as Defense Secretary James Mattis and the White House debate a long-delayed strategy for the war in Afghanistan that could adopt a tougher line toward over Pakistan’s role in the conflict.
Defense officials and congressional aides have for months said that the new strategy won’t focus solely on Afghanistan, but take a more regional approach. This includes stepping up pressure on Pakistan to dismantle Taliban and Haqqani sanctuaries in western Pakistan, both of which use the mostly ungoverned area to launch attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.
At issue is over $300 million in funding that U.S. officials say will be used to fund other priorities.
“The funds could not be released to the Government of Pakistan at this time because the secretary could not certify that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network,” Adam Stump, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
Of the $900 million originally marked for Pakistan, $550 has already been disbursed.
The 2018 budget, which has yet to be finalized on Capitol Hill, seeks $800 million in funds for Pakistan. No decision about that request has been made. Since 2002, Pakistan is the largest recipient of what is known as Coalition Support Funds reimbursements, designed to assist the government tackle extremists, receiving roughly $14 billion.
“The Department recognizes the significant sacrifices the Pakistan military has made in the fight against terrorism, and appreciates Pakistan’s continued support for transit of materiel to coalition forces in Afghanistan,” Stump said.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Mattis said “we are not winning” in Afghanistan, and promised “a more regional strategy, one that takes into account Afghanistan as part of South Asia, not look at it in isolation.”
The announcement follows the release this week of the State Department’s annual report on terrorism, which charged that Pakistan “did not take substantial action” against the Afghan Taliban or Haqqani, “or substantially limit their ability to threaten U.S. interests in Afghanistan, although Pakistan supported efforts to bring both groups into an Afghan-led peace process.”
The report also listed Pakistan as a safe haven for terrorist organizations.
Pakistan rejected the charges on Thursday. “We have taken indiscriminate and all out action against terrorists,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria told reporters.
Photo Credit: FARIDULLAH AHMADZAI/AFP/Getty Images