U.S. Quietly Speeds Aid for Pakistani Drives on Taliban

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WASHINGTON -- Even as the Pakistani government plays down the American role in its military operations in Taliban-controlled areas along the border with Afghanistan, the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months, said senior American and Pakistani officials.

During preparations this spring for the Pakistani campaigns in Swat and South Waziristan, President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan's top army general to speed the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop transport helicopters. Senior Pentagon officials have also hurried spare parts for Cobra helicopter gunships, night vision goggles, body armor and eavesdropping equipment to the fight.

American military surveillance drones are feeding video images and target information to Pakistani ground commanders, and the Pentagon has quietly provided the Pakistani Air Force with high-resolution, infrared sensors for F-16 warplanes, which Pakistan is using to guide bomb attacks on militants' strongholds in South Waziristan.

In addition, the number of American Special Forces soldiers and support personnel who are training and advising Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops has doubled in the past eight months, to as many as 150, an American adviser said. The Americans do not conduct combat operations.

The increasing American role in shoring up the Pakistani military's counterinsurgency abilities comes as the Obama administration debates how much of a troop commitment to make in neighboring Afghanistan. It also takes place as Taliban attacks are spreading into Pakistani cities. It is unclear whether Pakistani authorities are using any of the sophisticated surveillance equipment to combat the urban terrorism.

Underscoring the complexity of the relationship between the allies, Pakistani officials are loath to publicize the aid because of the deep-seated anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. And they privately express frustration about the pace and types of aid, which totals about $1.5 billion this year.

At a military briefing on Saturday, the Pakistani Army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said the fight in South Waziristan was a purely Pakistani enterprise, unaided by the United States or anyone else. "Let us finish the job on our own," he told reporters.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore, said that publicly acknowledging the military aid -- an open secret in Pakistan -- could hand militants fresh ammunition for propaganda attacks. "The Pakistan military would not like to talk about the U.S. assistance," he said, "so that the Islamists, most of whom are opposed to military operations, do not get additional reason to criticize the military and the government."

American officials in Pakistan -- whom the Pakistani government directed earlier this year not to discuss the United States role in providing humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes by the fighting in Swat -- said the same edict applied to war assistance.

"The Pakistanis insist on 'no American face' on their war. Period," said one senior American military officer in Southwest Asia, who would speak only anonymously because he did not want to jeopardize his relationship with his Pakistani counterparts.

Given the reluctance of Pakistani and American officials to speak openly about the assistance, it is difficult to assess how effective the American aid has been in the current combat operations.

Beneath their official silence, many senior Pakistani military officials seethe at the months, or even years, of delay by the Pentagon in delivering promised hardware and troop reimbursements. They also gripe that the United States is denying them the best technology, like Predator drones or Apache helicopter gunships.

"We are grateful for the generosity but believe that we have now learned to fight with what all we possess and not what has been promised," said one senior Pakistani officer, who was granted anonymity to provide a candid assessment.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, a nonprofit policy and research group, sharply criticized the Obama administration in an essay on the organization's Web site last week. "Pakistan still does not have all the weapons or assistance that it needs to do the job right," he wrote.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged the frustrations in an interview this week with Dawn, a Pakistani daily newspaper, before arriving on a trip to Pakistan.

"We both have bureaucracies," Mrs. Clinton said. "We know how it is sometimes that things get delayed or they're slower than we want, but we're really trying to accelerate everything we can to help the Pakistani military." Mrs. Clinton did not provide any details.

An American adviser in Pakistan, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal United States policy, said, "U.S. current military assistance either demonstrates U.S. resolve and offsets anti-Americanism, or is deliberately underplayed to boost Pakistani military and political credibility, and the latter meets our policy objectives more closely."

The United States has provided Pakistan with about $12 billion in military assistance and payments since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Pentagon reimburses Pakistan about $1 billion a year to cover its costs of fielding more than 100,000 troops along the Afghan border in counterinsurgency operations.

But in the past year, the Defense Department has significantly increased the shipment of military equipment to Pakistan to combat the increasingly violent insurgency.

Most significant was Mr. Obama's involvement in speeding the delivery of the 10 Russian-built Mi-17s, at the request of the Pakistani army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Four of the transport helicopters were leased to Pakistan in June, and the rest were provided under different authorities to move Pakistani Army soldiers in the border region near Afghanistan.

"The president was engaged on this issue in the spring," said a White House official, who spoke anonymously because he was discussing Mr. Obama's involvement.

Also involved was Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who repeatedly pressed his staff to find the Mi-17s in American inventories and to figure out a way to provide them to Pakistan.

This year alone, the Pentagon is sending more than $500 million in arms, equipment and training assistance to Pakistan, to help train and equip the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency operations.

Included in that package is nearly $13 million in electronic eavesdropping equipment to intercept militants' cellphone calls. In July, the Pentagon supplied Pakistan with 200 night vision goggles, 100 day/night scopes, more than 600 radios and 9,475 sets of body armor.

The Pentagon has also sharply increased programs to bring Pakistani officers to the United States for training, particularly in counterterrorism.

"We've put military assistance to Pakistan on a wartime footing, as up to now it has been in a peacetime process," said Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman. "We are doing everything within our power to assist Pakistan in improving its counterinsurgency capabilities."


This article originally appeared in The New York Times .


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