By: Josh Lederman
WASHINGTON — The United States will hold up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremist groups that threaten neighboring Afghanistan, officials said Thursday, in the first concrete step since President Donald Trump vowed to ramp up pressure on Pakistan.
In his new strategy for the 16-year Afghan war, Trump singled out Pakistan for harboring Taliban leaders and other militants that are battling American troops in Afghanistan. Trump’s tough words about Pakistan, a troubled U.S. security partner, infuriated Islamabad and triggered anti-U.S. protests that Pakistani police have had to use tear gas to disperse.
Although the Trump administration had floated the possibility of curtailing aid, hitting Islamabad with sanctions or severing its status as a major non-NATO ally, it had been unclear until Thursday exactly what types of measures the administration would pursue, or how quickly.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump said in his Afghanistan speech. “But that will have to change.”
Trump’s administration had faced a Sept. 30 deadline either to say that it planned to spend the $255 million, or lose it. Ahead of that deadline, the administration told Congress that it will indeed use the money, but is putting a “pause” on spending it or on assigning any funds to specific sales of military equipment to the Pakistanis.
State Department officials said the funds won’t be released until the U.S. sees that Pakistan is more successfully addressing U.S. concerns about safe havens in the country for groups including the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Afghan Taliban and has been blamed for some of Afghanistan’s worst attacks. The officials weren’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.
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