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US general calls out Pakistan on support for Afghan militants

US general calls out Pakistan on support for Afghan militants
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Pakistan is not putting adequate pressure on militants within its borders that are threatening stability in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

Gen. John Nicholson on Friday said he agreed with Defense Secretary Ash Carter's decision to withhold $300 million in military support for Pakistan this year, after not being able to certify it was placing enough pressure on the Afghan Taliban and the affiliated Haqqani Network, who are launching attacks in Afghanistan. 

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"It was his way of saying that there's not adequate pressure being put on the Haqqanis," Nicholson said at a Pentagon briefing. "And I concur with the Secretary's assessment on that." 

The comment reflected a growing willingness to publicly pressure Pakistan to rein in insurgent groups, particularly the Haqqani Network, who have stepped up attacks in Afghanistan, where 9,800 U.S. troops are stationed. 

Just earlier this year in March, the Pentagon's rhetoric towards Pakistan was much less harsh. 

"We have been pleased with Pakistan's efforts in two ways: one, their pressure against the Taliban in Pakistan. And then also their agreement to put pressure on the Taliban to join the peace process," Brig. Gen. William Shoffner, then-spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, told reporters on March 11. 

"They have been a willing partner with the Afghans, which we're encouraged by," he added.

The withholding of the $300 million payment, from the Coalition Support Fund program used to reimburse allies supporting the U.S. in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, was the first time it's happened due to support for the Haqqani Network, according to The Diplomat.

Pakistan insists it is going after terrorists and supports a peace deal between Afghanistan and the Taliban, but says there are limits to how much it can do. 

Nicholson called the Haqqani Network the "primary threat" to American troops, coalition members and to Afghans in Afghanistan, especially in and around its capital of Kabul. 

"We track their actions very closely. Especially as relates to the Kabul threat streams.  And so, we -- you know, I have the authorities I need to defend us against that threat," he said. 

Earlier this year, U.S. forces even took out top Taliban leader Mullah Mansour on Pakistani soil in a rare cross-border strike. 

"This had a disruptive effect on the Taliban, in particular on their finances, and it took them some time to get themselves sorted out and recovered from that," Nicholson said. 

Frustration with Pakistan has also grown on Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Tenn.) called Pakistan a "tremendously duplicitous partner" in seeking a peace deal with the Taliban. 

"Certainly they are working against our interests there through helping support in the ways that they do the Haqqani Network," he said at a Sept. 15 hearing. 

"My sense is you're going to see a lessening degree of support for Pakistan over time as a result," he added.  

Corker earlier this year tried to block the $700 million sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) also said he was running out of patience with Pakistan.

"Many here believe they have already made their decision that they won't go after Haqqani and may even allow them to continue to operate for whatever reasons," he said. "So they have chosen in many respects not to go after all terrorist activities."