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Trump administration suspends security aid to Pakistan over terror complaints

Supporters of Difa-e-Pakistan Council protest against the U.S. and Indian governments in Quetta, Pakistan, on January 1, 2018. (Muhammad Arshad/Pacific Press/Sipa USA/TNS)

After a series of angry exchanges with Pakistan, the Trump administration announced Thursday it was suspending security assistance to Islamabad until the country moves aggressively against local militants who have attacked U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, would not say precisely how much aid money was being suspended, but said it went “beyond” the $255 million in military assistance that U.S. officials previously had said was frozen.

Nauert said the aid freeze would last until the Pakistani government “takes decisive action” against the Afghan Taliban and its allies in the Haqqani network. “We consider them to be destabilizing the region and targeting U.S. personnel,” she said.

The Haqqani network often targets Westerners, including an American woman who was held for five years with her husband and three children. Pakistani forces using U.S. intelligence rescued the family late last year.

“Pakistan knows what it needs to do,” Nauert said.

Pakistan once was a firm U.S. ally, but relations with Washington have suffered multiple setbacks in recent years. The relationship is complicated because Islamabad is a key ally for some U.S. counterterrorism operations in Southwest Asia, and militants have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians.

Just five years ago, Pakistan received nearly $3.5 billion in U.S. aid. The Trump administration sought only $350 million for Pakistan in the 2018 budget, before the latest cuts, as part of a smaller overall aid budget.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration at the apparent inability of Pakistani authorities to rein in militants who cross out of the country’s rugged tribal areas to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Last summer, Trump accused Pakistan of giving “safe haven to agents of violence, chaos and terror.” On Monday, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said Pakistan offers the U.S. nothing but “lies & deceit.”

There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan after the State Department announced the suspension in aid.

But after Trump’s tweet Monday, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador David Hale for an explanation. Pakistan also lodged a strongly worded protest and asked for further clarification about Trump’s comments.

“We have already told the U.S. that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance,” Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said after Trump’s tweet.

The clash is the latest to roil relations between Washington and Islamabad.

Former President Barack Obama so distrusted Pakistan’s leadership that he ordered the U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011 without alerting the government or its security services. Pakistani officials, in turn, bitterly denounced Washington for launching hundreds of drone strikes against militants in its territory.

Earlier Thursday, the State Department placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom” under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The annual list cites countries that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.

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(Wilkinson reported from Washington and Bengali from Mumbai, India.)

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© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.