Trump likely considering drone strikes in Pakistan to crack down on terror safe havens

Trump's crackdown on terror safe havens: Pakistan fiercely denies allowing any militants safe haven on its territory. It bristles at US claims that Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, has ties to Haqqani network militants.

By: Reuters | Washington | Updated: June 20, 2017 4:09 pm
Donald Trump, Pakistan, Trump Pakistan, Trump Pakistan airstrikes US President Donald Trump (File)

President Donald Trump’s administration appears ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan, US officials tell Reuters. Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some US officials, however, are skeptical of the prospects for success, arguing that years of previous US efforts to curb Pakistan’s support for militant groups have failed, and that already strengthening US ties to India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy, undermine chances of a breakthrough with Islamabad. US officials say they seek greater cooperation with Pakistan, not a rupture in ties, once the administration finishes a regional review of the strategy guiding the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Precise actions have yet to be decided

The White House and Pentagon declined to comment on the review before its completion. Pakistan’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “The United States and Pakistan continue to partner on a range of national security issues,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said. But the discussions alone suggest a shift toward a more assertive approach to address safe havens in Pakistan that have been blamed for in part helping turn Afghanistan’s war into an intractable conflict.

Experts on America’s longest war argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents a place to plot deadly strikes in Afghanistan and regroup after ground offensives. Although long mindful of Pakistan, the Trump administration in recent weeks has put more emphasis on the relationship with Islamabad in discussions as it hammers out a the regional strategy to be presented to Trump by mid-July, nearly six months after he took office, one official said. “We’ve never really fully articulated what our strategy towards Pakistan is. The strategy will more clearly say what we want from Pakistan specifically,” the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other US officials warn of divisions within the government about the right approach and question whether any mix of carrots and sticks can get Islamabad to change its behavior. At the end of the day, Washington needs a partner, even if an imperfect one, in nuclear-armed Pakistan, they say. The United States is again poised to deploy thousands more troops in Afghanistan, an acknowledgment that US-backed forces are not winning and Taliban militants are resurgent. Without more pressure on militants within Pakistan who target Afghanistan, experts say additional US troop deployments will fail to meet their ultimate objective: to pressure the Taliban to eventually negotiate peace.

“I believe there will be a much harder US line on Pakistan going forward than there has been in the past,” Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, told Reuters, without citing specific measures under review. Kabul has long been critical of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

Pakistan fiercely denies allowing any militants safe haven on its territory. It bristles at US claims that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, has ties to Haqqani network militants blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. “What Pakistan says is that we are already doing a lot and that our plate is already full,” a senior Pakistani government source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source doubted the Trump administration would press too hard, saying: “They don’t want to push Pakistan to abandon their war against terrorism.” Pakistani officials point towards the toll militancy has taken on the country. Since 2003, almost 22,000 civilians and nearly 7,000 Pakistani security forces have been killed as a result of militancy, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks violence. Experts say Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan is also driven in part by fears that India will gain influence in Afghanistan.

IS PAKISTAN AN ALLY?

Nuclear-armed Pakistan won the status as a major non-NATO ally in 2004 from the George Bush administration, in what was at the time seen in part as recognition of its importance in the US battle against al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. The status is mainly symbolic, allowing limited benefits such as giving Pakistan faster access to surplus US military hardware.

Some US officials and experts on the region scoff at the title. “Pakistan is not an ally. It’s not North Korea or Iran. But it’s not an ally,” said Bruce Riedel, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution. But yanking the title would be seen by Pakistan as a major blow. “The Pakistanis would take that very seriously because it would be a slap at their honor,” said a former US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, co-authored a report with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, in which they recommended the Trump administration warn Pakistan the status could be revoked in six months. “Thinking of Pakistan as an ally will continue to create problems for the next administration as it did for the last one,” said the February report. It was unclear how seriously the Trump administration was considering the proposal. The growing danger to Afghanistan from suspected Pakistan-based militants was underscored by a devastating May 31 truck bomb that killed more than 80 people and wounded 460 in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency said the attack – one of the deadliest in memory in Kabul – had been carried out by the Haqqani network with assistance from Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies. Washington believes the strikes appeared to be the work of the Haqqani network, US officials told Reuters. US frustration over the Haqqani’s presence in Pakistan has been building for years. The United States designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization in 2012. US Navy Admiral Mike

Mullen, then the top US military officer, told Congress in 2011 that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI. The potential US pivot to a more assertive approach would be sharply different than the approach taken at the start of the Obama administration, when US officials sought to court Pakistani leaders, including Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

David Sedney, who served as Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009 to 2013, said the attempt to turn Islamabad into a strategic partner was a “disaster.” “It didn’t affect Pakistan’s behavior one bit. In fact, I would argue it made Pakistan’s behavior worse,” Sedney said.

MORE DRONES, CASH CUT-OFF

Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF), a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations. It is an important form of foreign currency for the nuclear-armed country and one that is getting particularly close scrutiny during the Trump administration review. Last year, the Pentagon decided not to pay Pakistan $300 million in CSF funding after then-US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter declined to sign authorization that Pakistan was taking adequate action against the Haqqani network.

US officials said the Trump administration was discussing withholding at least some assistance to Pakistan. Curtis’ report also singled out the aid as a target. But US aid cuts could cede even more influence to China, which already has committed nearly $60 billion in investments in Pakistan. Another option under review is broadening a drone campaign to penetrate deeper into Pakistan to target Haqqani fighters and other militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, US officials and a Pakistan expert said.

“Now the Americans (will be) saying, you aren’t taking out our enemies, so therefore we are taking them out ourselves,” the Pakistan expert, who declined to be identified, said. Pakistan’s army chief of staff last week criticized “unilateral actions” such as drone strikes as “counterproductive and against (the) spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan”.

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  1. R
    Romik
    Jun 21, 2017 at 6:48 am
    Please do it Mr. Trump!!
    Reply
    1. S
      Sam
      Jun 20, 2017 at 10:40 pm
      russia is like the living dead with its eves closed /the new boss is usa /other countries should stop wasting their time with it
      Reply
      1. T
        Truth
        Jun 20, 2017 at 7:34 pm
        Trump is a blabbermouth------he says that he is under investigation while his lawyer claims that he is not -------waiting to see the end of all this nonsense !
        Reply
        1. R
          Raju Devdas
          Jun 20, 2017 at 7:46 pm
          Trump is the man. It is too early to accept that Trump is a trumpet. With Putin and Modi, Trump is going to be deadly for radical Islamic terrorism. Like he says They are dirty filthy rats !!
          Reply
          1. T
            Truth
            Jun 20, 2017 at 9:22 pm
            The Three Musketeers that you have mentioned lie to their people left and right..........and as for the filthy rats-----it's all a battle between the devils !
        2. S
          Surya Prakasam Prabhala
          Jun 20, 2017 at 7:32 pm
          US has to take into consideration the prospect of Pakistan becoming another province of china soon.The Chinese are not pouring aid into Pakistan for charity.They are neighbours which gives them a huge advantage over US which is across the seas.US has to take Iran,Afghanistan,India into confidence to contain growing Chinese influence over Pakistan.
          Reply
          1. B
            bala
            Jun 21, 2017 at 2:05 am
            shut your rass you indians are the cause of all unrest snd plots / if only i could find a way to behad you suryo
            Reply
            1. S
              Sufi digital
              Jun 22, 2017 at 7:33 pm
              You r in dire need of psychiatric help. Please get some ASAP
          2. L
            l s
            Jun 20, 2017 at 7:13 pm
            When will the U S again give huge funds to Pakistan, as it always does stating that it is in the interest U S.
            Reply
            1. C
              Citizen
              Jun 20, 2017 at 6:17 pm
              Good for US/world!!!!!!! Jaihind
              Reply
              1. P
                P.K.Ramchandran
                Jun 20, 2017 at 5:29 pm
                Trump made a mistake in disclosing about the drone attack. Now all the terrorists will congregate in POK and America has no intention to take on the terrorists there.
                Reply
                1. B
                  bala
                  Jun 21, 2017 at 2:28 am
                  i notice the indians singing and barking terrorists in pakistan but what about the extremist indian terrorists and plotters / one example is cow vigil anties took law into their own hands and killed people just on rumers then there is balbary mosque which was there for ages the extremist suddenly took law into their hands and demolised it killing 2000 people then there is paller buullets on stone throwing civilians and tieing to front of jeeps then opening declairlng terrorist action in bulchestan i could go on and on /dont you indians make out your as good as gold on terrorism
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    Sufi digital
                    Jun 22, 2017 at 7:35 pm
                    U need to get some education also, along with psychiatric help
                2. S
                  Shafted mohammed
                  Jun 20, 2017 at 4:50 pm
                  Here is a president more practical and. No nonsense guy who would go to any extent to prtect American interest and who would give it well to Pakistan it very well deserves.
                  Reply
                  1. B
                    bala
                    Jun 21, 2017 at 2:44 am
                    its that easy you illetrate hind you think china will juust back and watch it could drag others in / china russia may not take kindly flexing it nussles on pakistan china and russia to prevent usa menace will intervine as its a major risk to china security if usa cause bother tto pakistan then theres factor x nukes
                    Reply
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