April 29, 2009 / 9:19 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 1-US House to speed war funds amid Pakistan concerns

* Vote could come in mid-May

* Situation in Pakistan ‘deteriorating’

* Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund sough (Adds new quotes from congressional hearing, details)

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers will accelerate efforts to provide more cash for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid to struggling Pakistan, which officials say is ill-equipped to cope with the spread of Islamist militancy.

A Democratic leader told Reuters on Wednesday the House of Representatives could vote in mid-May on President Barack Obama’s request for $83.4 billion to pay for the wars this year. The measure includes more than $400 million for counterinsurgency assistance for the Pakistani military as well as $1.4 billion in economic aid for Islamabad.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Reuters he expected the bill to be on the House floor “probably not next week but the week after.”

Hoyer said a day earlier that officials were considering whether to vote separately on some aid to Pakistan as early as next week, amid U.S. concern about Islamabad’s efforts to fight an advancing Taliban insurgency.

Facing resistance from congressional appropriators to pulling apart the war funding bill, lawmakers decided instead to try to get the entire bill to the House floor faster. Under normal procedures, the legislation would not have been expected to come to a vote until later in the summer.

Hoyer spoke as senior Pentagon and State Department officials told the House Armed Services Committee that supplemental approval was necessary for a new Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund that is expected to funnel $3 billion to Islamabad over the next five years. The $400 million sought in this year’s supplemental would be the first installment.

The Obama administration wants the money to help train the Pakistan army in counterinsurgency tactics that officials say are necessary to thwart militants who have carried out a wave of attacks inside Pakistan over the past two years.

U.S. fears of spreading militancy in Pakistan reached a high point last week when the Taliban established operating bases within 60 miles (96 km) of Islamabad.

“Pakistan currently does not have sufficient capacity to undertake counterinsurgency operations effectively or implement the clear, hold, build strategy that will be required to address the insurgent threat,” Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said in written testimony to the armed services panel.

‘WE’RE GOING TO HELP THEM’

U.S. military officials say the Pakistan army’s operations against Islamist militants in northwestern tribal areas have proved ineffective because the army uses conventional tactics that rely on tanks, heavy artillery and other assets that are of little use against a guerrilla enemy.

Counterinsurgency strategy calls for smaller, more lightly armed units that often travel by helicopter and rely on surveillance and local intelligence to eradicate insurgents.

Up to now, the United States has provided counterinsurgency assistance only to Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps and the military’s special forces units.

Pakistan has rebuffed U.S. efforts to train the regular army in counterinsurgency partly because military officials see the conventional threat from India as a main danger.

Pakistani leaders are also wary of close high-profile cooperation with the U.S. military, fearing it could fuel anti-American sentiment in the country.

But Boucher said the regular army recently voiced interest in embracing counterinsurgency methods.

“They want to expand their counterinsurgency capabilities. They’ve made that clear with us,” he told reporters without providing details. “And we’re going to help them.”

“Right now, it is more important than ever to strengthen our military partnership with Pakistan,” Michele Flournoy, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, told the committee.

“The situation in Pakistan is deteriorating. The insurgency along Pakistan’s western border has been steadily expanding and militants are increasingly in a position to threaten the Pakistani heartland.” (Editing by Peter Cooney)

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