Islamabad: Pakistan government has told the US to halve the number of military trainers it has stationed in the country, the latest sign of spiralling distrust between the two allies since the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan informed the US in the last week or two that it would not need some US special forces trainers advising the Pakistani military, the Pentagon said. Pakistani security officials said the decision came three days after the al Qaeda leader’s death.
“We don’t need unnecessary people here. They cause problems for us instead of being helpful,” said a Pakistani security official, who asked to remain anonymous. He said the withdrawal might start by early June.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said there had been “no real change” to the small US military training mission in Pakistan, where a team of US Navy SEALs launched the top-secret 2 May raid that killed the al Qaeda leader.
The number of trainers currently in Pakistan was not disclosed but Lapan said the entire military mission has ranged between 200 and 300 people.
Other Pakistani and US military sources in Pakistan have said the special forces training component formerly numbered around 120 and would be drawn down to less than 50.
Other US troops are involved in helicopter maintenance, liaising with the Pakistani military and aid efforts. It is unclear if they will also be withdrawn.
The raid that killed bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, 50 km (31 miles) northwest of Islamabad, intensified US questions about Pakistan’s possible role in sheltering militants, straining an already fragile relationship.
Many Pakistanis see the raid as a clear violation of its sovereignty and some lawmakers have asked for a review of ties with Washington, which gives Pakistan billions of dollars in aid to help in the war against Islamist militants, especially in neighbouring Afghanistan.
While hinting that Pakistan could do more in its counter-terrorism efforts, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton also praised its strategic ally as a “good partner”.
“We do have a set of expectations that we are looking for the Pakistani government to meet, but I want to underscore in conclusion it is not as though they have been on the sidelines,” Clinton told a news conference in Paris. She gave no details.
“They have been actively engaged in their own bitter fight ... and we are going to look to put our partnership on as strong a foundation going forward as possible,” she said.
As the United States starts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan this year and some US lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to reconsider assistance to Pakistan in the wake of the bin Laden raid.
US aid has also led to quarrels between Pakistan’s civilian government and its armed forces over how US military funds were spent, according to Wikileaks, highlighting the turf battles and lack of transparency over billions of dollars.
US diplomatic cables in 2009, published by Dawn newspaper, showed then finance minister Shaukat Tarin asked the US embassy to keep him informed of American aid given directly to the Pakistani military, saying the “Army Chief of Staff General Kayani does not pass on this information”.
At the same time, some Pakistan government officials feared money from a special reimbursement fund was being “siphoned off into private coffers”.
Washington, too, was concerned military funds were being diverted by the civilian government for social programs, cables said.
“The temptation for the new coalition government to tap CSF (coalition support fund) for non-military purposes will be high,” one US diplomatic cable from 2008 said.
The Coalition Support Fund was set up by US Congress after the 11 September, 2001, attacks to reimburse allies for costs in supporting the US-led war on militancy. Pakistan has received $8.8 billion from this fund since the attacks.
Many critics wonder if these funds and others are misspent to beef up Pakistan’s military capabilities against India, or possibly bolstering its nuclear weapons program.
Pakistan has received $20.7 billion worth of US assistance over the past decade, about two-thirds of it military aid intended to bolster the army’s capabilities against militants.
The Pakistani Taliban, and its allies al Qaeda, have stepped up their attacks since bin Laden’s killing, targeting police and military installations, including a brazen assault this week on a key naval air base in Karachi.
In the latest attack, militants fired a mortar bomb at a military check post in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border. There were no casualties.