Senate Armed Services leaders growing frustrated with Pakistan

Pentagon officials last week detailed "unprecedented" steps Pakistan has taken to combat Taliban and al Qaeda elements on its own soil, but senior lawmakers said Islamabad must do much more.

Michèle Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy, acknowledged to senators Tuesday that “Pakistan’s military forces have not yet established effective control over important areas where extremists and insurgent areas.”

Flournoy also candidly said Pakistan is among several of Afghanistan’s neighbors that could “support or spoil progress in Afghanistan.”

In several exchanges with Senate Armed Services Committee members, as well as several pages of her 13-page written testimony, Flournoy described “progress” Pakistani officials and its military have made in the struggle against Taliban and al Qaeda forces. 

But panel leaders were not convinced.

When Flournoy told the panel chairman, Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence MORE (D-Mich.), that it is crucial Washington increase its “investment on [its] strategic partnership with Pakistan” to help “build up their capacity” to combat Taliban and al Qaeda forces, he dismissed the idea.

Simply directing more funds toward Islamabad’s military, Levin shot back bluntly, “is not good enough.”

Too often, Pakistani officials have resisted going after anti-American forces on their soil, Levin said. “And those snakes are crossing the border to attack U.S. and Afghan troops,” he told Flournoy.

The panel chairman said his committee is not willing to ramp up the already sizable U.S. aid package to Pakistan “without a serious agreement” that Islamabad will do more.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), the panel’s ranking member, told Flournoy and Gen. David Petraeus that Pakistan’s reluctance is a “growing problem.”

Petraeus is the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials “have done everything” possible to change Pakistan’s behavior except cutting off funding, McCain said. Washington has tried that before, but “it didn’t work,” he noted.

McCain said he has determined the sole way to get Pakistani officials to do more is to continue recent progress creating a stable and functioning Afghanistan. 

For her part, Flournoy told the panel that Pakistani military forces have launched “unprecedented” operations in South Waziristan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and other provinces. Pakistan also has moved six Army divisions from its Indian border to fight Taliban and al Qaeda elements. And Pakistan has increased coordination with Afghanistan officials on cross-border operations.

Senators also peppered Flournoy and Petraeus with questions and concerns about Iran’s influence in Afghanistan.

Under questioning by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Petraeus confirmed American military forces recently intercepted a shipment of arms sent by Iranian military officials to the Taliban.

“We do see Iranian activity,” Petraeus told Lieberman, and it’s not just arms — Tehran also is seeking to have a “political influence” there that is “similar” to its actions in Iraq several years ago.

“Afghanistan is a proud and sovereign nation that fears and resents meddling or interference in its affairs by its neighbors,” Flournoy told the committee. “Nevertheless, Iran and Pakistan still hold the potential to support or spoil progress in Afghanistan.”