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Pentagon Withholds $50 Million in Pakistan Military Aid

FILE - U.S. Secretary for Defense Jim Mattis arrives for a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 29, 2017.
FILE - U.S. Secretary for Defense Jim Mattis arrives for a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 29, 2017.

The Pentagon has withheld tens of millions of dollars remaining in military aid to Pakistan after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis decided that Islamabad was not taking enough action to counter the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.

"This is simply an assessment of the current state of play," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon Friday. "It's not a policy. It is a reality."

The U.S. has declined to make military reimbursements in the past, withholding $300 million last year. Pakistan has already been reimbursed $550 million of the $900 million it was authorized to receive in fiscal year 2016.

Mattis' decision affects $50 million that was previously earmarked for Pakistan.

Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said Mattis "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]."

Money is reprogrammed

Stump said the money is being reprogrammed to be used for other requirements.

The decision comes as President Donald Trump's administration is exploring its approach toward Pakistan in developing a regional policy aimed at fighting Taliban militants and Islamic State fighters in neighboring Afghanistan.

"This decision does not prejudge the conclusions of the White House review of South Asia strategy, which is still ongoing," Stump said, adding that the decision also "does not reduce the significance of the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has undertaken over previous years."

Efforts against militants

Pakistan's efforts have reduced the ability of some militant groups to use North Waziristan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as a safe haven for terrorism, but the Taliban and the Haqqani network continue to operate in other locations in Pakistan, Stump said.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, told VOA he expects Trump to take a harder line toward Pakistan than former President Barack Obama took.

"I think he'll [Trump] have more aid cuts, and I simply think he'll have less patience for the Pakistanis and their lack of movement on dealing with the Haqqani network and the Taliban," Kugelman said.

He added that the Trump administration will be more likely to take steps such as flying drones targeting Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, which some experts have called the de facto headquarters of the Afghan Taliban.

The area was previously immune to U.S. drone strikes until May 2016, when a Hellfire missile killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.

However, Kugelman told VOA he also worries that a harder line toward Pakistan might cause Pakistan to "double down" on its support for the Haqqani network.

"The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is in for some difficult times," he said.