ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s government has told the United States to halve the number of military trainers it has stationed in the country, the latest sign of spiralling distrust between the two allies since the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan informed the United States in the last week or two that it would not need some U.S. special forces trainers advising the Pakistani military, the Pentagon said. Pakistani security officials said the decision came three days after the al Qaeda leader’s death.
“We don’t need unnecessary people here. They cause problems for us instead of being helpful,” said a Pakistani security official, who asked to remain anonymous. He said the withdrawal might start by early June.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said there had been “no real change” to the small U.S. military training mission in Pakistan, where a team of U.S. Navy SEALS launched the top-secret May 2 raid that killed the al Qaeda leader.
The number of trainers currently in Pakistan was not disclosed but Lapan said the entire military mission has ranged between 200 and 300 people.
Other Pakistani and U.S. military sources in Pakistan said the special forces training component formerly numbered around 120 and would be drawn down to less than 50.
Other U.S. troops are involved in helicopter maintenance, liaising with the Pakistani military and aid efforts. It is unclear if they will also be withdrawn.
The raid that killed bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, 50 km (31 miles) northwest of Islamabad, intensified U.S. questions about Pakistan’s possible role in sheltering militants, straining an already fragile relationship.
Many Pakistanis see the raid as a clear violation of its sovereignty and some lawmakers have asked for a review of ties with Washington, which gives Pakistan billions of dollars in aid to help in the war against Islamist militants, especially in neighbouring Afghanistan.
As the United States starts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan this year and some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to reconsider assistance to Pakistan in the wake of the bin Laden raid.
U.S. aid has also led to quarrels between Pakistan’s civilian government and its armed forces over how U.S. military funds were spent, according to Wikileaks, highlighting the turf battles and lack of transparency over billions of dollars.
U.S. diplomatic cables in 2009, published by Dawn newspaper, showed then Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin asked the U.S. embassy to keep him informed of American aid given directly to the Pakistani military, saying the “Army Chief of Staff General Kayani does not pass on this information”.
At the same time, some Pakistan government officials feared money from a special reimbursement fund was being “siphoned off into private coffers”. Washington, too, was concerned military funds were being diverted by the civilian government for social programs, cables said.
“The temptation for the new coalition government to tap CSF (coalition support fund) for non-military purposes will be high,” one U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008 said.
The Coalition Support Fund was set up by U.S. Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to reimburse allies for costs in supporting the U.S.-led war on militancy. Pakistan has received $8.8 billion from this fund since the attacks.
Many critics wonder if these funds and others are misspent to beef up Pakistan’s military capabilities against India, or possibly bolstering its nuclear weapons program.
Pakistan has received $20.7 billion worth of U.S. assistance over the past decade, about two-thirds of it military aid.
(Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Additional reporting by Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Miral Fahmy)