Pakistan Oks U.s. Help

Military Training, Counterinsurgency Equipment To Fight Taliban Part Of Agreement

April 29, 2009|By Julian E. Barnes | Julian E. Barnes,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -The Pakistani government has agreed to allow the U.S. a greater role in training its military, part of an informal agreement that will also send counterinsurgency equipment - possibly including helicopters - to help Islamabad step up its offensive against militants.

Washington has been watching with growing alarm as Taliban forces have made military gains in Pakistan, and U.S. officials have stepped up pressure on Islamabad to do more.

Although the Pakistani military began a broad offensive against the Taliban on Tuesday, senior U.S. defense officials remain deeply worried about Islamabad's ability to beat back the militant advance.

Long shaped by threat of a war with India, the Pakistani military is armed mostly with heavy weaponry and lacks the kind of equipment useful in fighting an insurgency. And, after months of fighting, the forces that have been hunting militants are exhausted.

"You have a Pakistani military that is battle weary," a senior defense official said. "Their equipment is aged and not effective for the fight they are in." The official, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the U.S-Pakistan relationship.

On his trip last week to Pakistan, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, continued to press Pakistan to take the militant force more seriously. Pakistani military chief Ashfaq Kayani outlined for Mullen a series of steps he was planning, including the offensive that began Tuesday in the Buner area of Pakistan.

The Pakistani operation included using heavy artillery, helicopters and fighter jets to strike Taliban positions in the mountains. But U.S. officials fear those tactics will be ineffective or could backfire by inflicting civilian casualties. Instead, the U.S. military would like to see Pakistan's military move in light infantry or commando units.

Over the long term, the U.S. military believes training the Pakistanis for that kind of combat is critical for countering the Taliban threat. So far, Pakistan has only allowed in about 70 U.S. special operations trainers - an effort the American military has long been anxious to expand.

The new agreement would have the U.S. military train Pakistani officers outside of Pakistan. The Pentagon has offered to train the Pakistanis in the U.S., but a senior administration official said the location of the additional training has not been finalized.

Until now, the U.S. has focused on creating commando forces for raids and counterinsurgency operations.

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