WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is lobbying Congress to give U.S. military commanders the same unfettered authority to back Pakistan’s war against Taliban insurgents as commanders have in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Seeking to inject the debate over military aid to Pakistan with a sense of wartime urgency, Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged lawmakers Thursday to approve the Pentagon request for $400 million this year for the new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, with another $700 million to be requested for 2010. Overall, the administration is seeking up to $3 billion over the next five years in funding for Pakistan’s military.
The new program would significantly expand and accelerate U.S. military training and equipping of Pakistan’s security forces, reaching beyond the tribally recruited Frontier Corps and Pakistani Special Forces to include the regular Pakistan Army’s 11th Corps, which is stationed along the country’s western border.
The U.S. military’s Central Command, led by Gen. David Petraeus, would control the funds, targeting them specifically for counterinsurgency training and equipment such as night vision goggles, helicopters, and intelligence capabilities.
The Pentagon seeks “this unique authority for the unique and urgent circumstances we face in Pakistan – for dealing with a challenge that simultaneously requires wartime and peacetime capabilities,” Gates said in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have voiced concerns about creating the new Pakistan military funding stream through the Pentagon. Traditionally such military aid flows through the State Department and is subject to the restrictions of the Foreign Assistance Act.
“We question the appropriateness of providing foreign assistance for Pakistan under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense,” committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in an opening statement.
But administration and military officials argue that U.S. commanders need wartime authorities because they are overly constrained by current funding programs. The solution, they say, is a program modeled after U.S. military programs to build security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re walking a pretty fine line here. This is not a war zone for the U.S. military, but given the urgency of the situation we need similar authorities in order to help Pakistan train and equip its troops for counterinsurgency operations ASAP,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.