Pentagon to withhold $50 million from Pakistan

Pentagon to withhold $50 million from Pakistan
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The Pentagon is withholding $50 million in funding for Pakistan after Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress he will not certify that the country has done enough to fight the Haqqani Network.

“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 per the requirement in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)," Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said in a statement Friday.

The announcement comes as the Trump administration continues to devise a new strategy for the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Officials have said the strategy will take a regional approach, including whether to take a harder line with Pakistan.

Still, Stump said Friday’s announcement does not indicate the results of the strategy review.

"This decision does not prejudge the conclusions of the White House review of South Asia strategy, which is still ongoing," he said.

The funds being withheld come from the so-called Coalition Support Fund, a Pentagon program to reimburse countries that are supporting counterterrorism operations.

Pakistan has been reimbursed $550 million of the $900 million marked for it in fiscal 2016.

The 2016 annual defense policy bill required the Defense secretary to certify that Pakistan is taking action against the Haqqani Network before releasing the remaining $350 million.

Last year, Mattis’s predecessor, Ash Carter, chose to withhold $300 million of that funding.

At Mattis’s direction, the funding originally meant for Pakistan will be used for other Pentagon programs, Stump said.

The Haqqani Network, which is based in Pakistan, is considered among the most effective and deadly offshoots of the Taliban. Afghan officials have blamed the group for the May truck bombing in Kabul that killed nearly 100 people.

In addition to the Pentagon’s decision, the State Department this week also said Pakistan has not taken much action against the Haqqani Network.

“Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or [the Haqqani Network], 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 department said in its annual report on terrorism.

Pakistan has decried the report, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria saying Thursday that Pakistan has "taken indiscriminate and all out action against terrorists."

In his Friday statement, Stump said the Pentagon’s decision does not diminish the efforts of the Pakistani military.

“This decision does not reduce the significance of the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has undertaken over previous years,” he said. “We continue to be encouraged by Pakistan's operations in North Waziristan and elsewhere in the [federally administered tribal areas].

“Pakistan's efforts have reduced the ability of some militant groups to use North Waziristan and the [tribal areas] as a safe haven for terrorism. However, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to operate in other locations in Pakistan.”

There is a similar certification requirement for Pakistan to receive $400 million meant for it in fiscal 2017.

“Pakistan still has time,” Stump said, “to take action against the Haqqani Network in order to influence the secretary's certification decision in FY17.”