WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is withholding some $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan in a show of displeasure over its cutback on U.S. trainers, limits on visas for U.S. personnel and other bilateral irritants, the Obama administration said on Sunday.
Pakistani authorities have “taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid which we’re giving to the military,” White House Chief of Staff William Daley said on ABC television’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour.”
As a result, “We’ll hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give,” he said, adding this amounted to about $800 million, or more than a third of the $2 billion given to Pakistan for security assistance.
The U.S. Defense Department said Pakistan’s army had requested a “significant cutback” of U.S. military trainers and limited the ability of U.S. personnel to obtain visas.
“While the Pakistani military leadership tells us this is a temporary step, the reduced presence of our trainers and other personnel means we can’t deliver the assistance that requires training and support to be effective,” the department said in a written response to questions.
Bilateral ties have been under mounting strain as the United States has pushed one of its key counterterrorism partners to boost efforts against Taliban and other militants fighting western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan also is smarting from the surprise U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a Pakistani garrison town, as well as U.S. drone attacks and night raids that have killed civilians as well as militants.
The New York Times, which reported the aid curtailment in its Sunday editions, said Pakistan has shut down a U.S. program that had been training paramilitary forces, sending home more than 100 U.S. trainers in recent weeks, and has threatened to close the base the CIA has been using for pilotless plane attacks on militant targets.
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship also was damaged last year after a CIA contractor in Lahore killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him.
The Defense Department in its reply said a series of events over the last eight months “have affected our bilateral relations.”
“We remain committed to helping Pakistan build it’s capabilities, but we have communicated to Pakistani officials on numerous occasions that we require certain support in order to provide certain assistance,” the Pentagon said.
“Working together, allowing an appropriate presence for U.S. military personnel, providing necessary visas, and affording appropriate access are among the things that would allow us to effectively provide assistance,” it added.
The State Department added: “We are taking a very clear-eyed approach to our relationship with Pakistan - weighing both the importance of a continued long-term relationship and the importance of near-term action on key issues.
The United States will continue to work with Pakistani leaders “to affirm the importance of cooperating toward our shared national security objectives,” the department added in a written reply to a query.
with additional reporting by John Crawley, editing by Cynthia Osterman