Pakistani Troops Linked to Abuses Will Lose U.S. Aid
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to refuse to train or equip about a half-dozen Pakistani Army units that are believed to have killed unarmed prisoners and civilians during recent offensives against the Taliban, according to senior administration and Congressional officials.
The cutoff of funds is an unusual rebuke to a wartime ally, and it illustrates the growing tensions with a country that is seen as a pivotal partner, and sometimes impediment, in a campaign to root out Al Qaeda and other militant groups.
The White House has not told Pakistan of the decision, even though senior Pakistani military and civilian leaders are here for a series of meetings, according to officials from both countries.
It has privately briefed a few senior members of Congress, but it has not given them details about which Pakistani units will be affected by the suspension. One senior administration official said there was “a lot of concern about not embarrassing” the Pakistani military, especially during a week in which officials are here for the third “Strategic Dialogue” in a year.
The decision comes just as the two countries are trying to get beyond a sharp exchange after NATO helicopter gunships killed three Pakistani paramilitary troops, and Pakistan retaliated by shutting down a critical allied supply route into Afghanistan.
President Obama met Wednesday in Washington with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and other senior Pakistani officials before leaving on a campaign trip to the West Coast, but the White House provided only a vague description of their conversations. Most of the strategic dialogue is focused on coordination of a range of subjects, including counterterrorism, nuclear security, flood relief and trade.
The officials who described the decision said it would affect the Pakistani Army and special operations troops supported by the United States that have conducted offensives against Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan in the past year, the officials said. But the process is not over: some additional Pakistani units may yet be denied American aid, officials say.
The Leahy Amendment, a law that stretches back more than a decade, requires the United States to cut off aid to foreign militaries that are found to have committed gross violations of human rights. It has been applied in the past to Indonesia and Colombia, but never to a country of such strategic importance to the United States as Pakistan.
“I told the White House that I have real concerns about the Pakistani military’s actions, and I’m not going to close my eyes to it because of our national interests in Pakistan,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the author of the amendment, said Wednesday from his home in Vermont. “If the law is going to have teeth, it has to be taken seriously. Pakistan’s military leaders have made encouraging statements about addressing these issues, but this requires more than statements.”
The United States spends about $2 billion a year on the Pakistani military, including money specifically designated for counterterrorism operations.
A senior Pakistani official who has been involved in discussions about the issue said the United States had conveyed its concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings, which he said Pakistan was addressing. But he said Pakistan had not been notified that any army units had been refused training or equipment. The United States government “has not threatened us with withholding of assistance or training for any of our military units on these grounds,” the official said.
Much of the administration’s review has been overseen by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has also been one of the administration’s direct contacts with General Kayani. Admiral Mullen has spoken to senior lawmakers, including Senator Leahy and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and assured them that the law would be followed, a senior military said.
Once strictures are in place, the government has inspections to make sure that the sanctioned units do not receive American training or equipment.