WASHINGTON: Calling relations with Pakistan vital to U.S. national security, senior Defense Department officials testified on Capitol Hill today in support of long-term funding for Pakistan’s counterinsurgency operations.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff, said continued funding of both military and civilian operations in Pakistan is critical to sustain the coalition’s counterinsurgency gains in Afghanistan.
“This is a partnership that is absolutely vital to U.S. interests, but it’s also complex,” Flournoy told the House Armed Services Committee.
The Obama administration has been consistent in its goal of dismantling al-Qaida and other violent extremists in the region, Flournoy said, and Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in ways that extend beyond terrorism.
U.S. operations in Afghanistan “are bearing fruit” in reducing violent extremism, and Pakistan is increasingly helpful in the effort, Flournoy said. Pakistani security forces have made significant gains since fighting terrorists in the Swat Valley in March 2009, persevering in the face of more than 4,000 casualties, she said.
Since then, terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities have caused more Pakistani citizens to support counterinsurgency efforts, Flournoy said. “It galvanized the population to see this as more than just a U.S. fight,” she told the committee, “but one in which they have a vital interest.”
U.S. support for Pakistan extends beyond security to matters such as energy and water, Flournoy said.
“Their assessment of our staying power is changing,” she added. “We’ve been extremely responsive to their needs in funding and other support. I think they are starting to believe that we are committed to the greater security of the region and that extends their willingness to work with us.”
Despite the gains, Pakistani officials recently noted a “trickling in” of Taliban to previously cleared areas, Paxton said. The only way to prevent insurgents from regaining strength in such areas is to support the Pakistani government with military support and civilian projects, he said, adding that the Pakistani people must see government control as enduring.
Funding for Pakistan’s counterinsurgency campaign has allowed the U.S. military to supply helicopters and other equipment to the Pakistanis, train their security forces and enhance coordination and intelligence sharing between Pakistan and coalition forces, Flournoy said.
However, Pakistan remains “fraught with challenges,” Flournoy said. Three of Pakistan’s current challenges, she said, include:
- Its ability to hold and build areas that have been cleared of insurgents.
- Its longstanding perception that India, rather than terrorists, is its biggest threat.
- Its legacy of mistrust toward the United States.
“It is imperative that we support Pakistan,” Paxton said. “Their fight is directly aligned with our goals in the region. We must remain steadfast in developing their abilities.”
Violent extremist networks in the region threaten not only Pakistan, but “the entire globe, including the U.S. homeland,” he said.
The Defense Department shifted control of funding for Pakistan’s counterinsurgency effort to the State Department, beginning with a $1.2 billion request in the fiscal 2011 budget, State and Defense officials said. State will transfer $10 million of the fund for the U.S. military to hold cleared areas and respond to acute humanitarian needs in those areas, they said.
As part of U.S.-Pakistan military relations, Flournoy said, it is “absolutely critical” for the U.S. military to resume its training-assistance program for Pakistani military officers. A congressionally imposed stoppage of that program in the 1990s resulted in Pakistan’s current mid-level officers having little understanding of the U.S. military.
“We did lose a generation, and we now are scrambling to find other ways to engage them and build that trust,” she said. “We will spend a long time recovering from that.”
Also, Flournoy said, U.S. military officials are working hard to provide the Pakistani military with helicopters and related maintenance and training programs. To expedite their capabilities, the United States refurbished the Pakistani military’s Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters and also has provided some U.S.-made Bell 412s.
Flournoy explained why the United States would refurbish Pakistan’s older, Russian-made helicopters. “They have them today, and they know how to fly them,” she said. “In matter of weeks, we can have them in the air and return them to flight.” Officials are discussing a long-term plan for new Pakistani helicopters, she said.
As the United States continues its involvement in the region, Paxton said, a “whole of government” approach is important.
“Don’t lose sight of other side of the border,” he said. “Just as we have built an enduring relationship with Pakistan, we need to do that with Afghanistan and make sure they build relations with each other.”
Flournoy said there is a clear understanding within the administration “of where we need to go” with Pakistan, and it includes about a 50-50 match of military and civilian support.