U.S. weighs Pakistani blowback as it piles pressure on Islamabad

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The United States is examining ways to mitigate any Pakistani retaliation as it piles pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants, a senior U.S. official said yesterday, cautioning that U.S. action could extend beyond a new freeze in aid.

Pakistan is a crucial gateway for U.S. military supplies destined for U.S. and other troops fighting a 16-year-old war in neighboring, landlocked Afghanistan.

So far, the Pentagon says Pakistan has not given any indication that it would close its airspace or roads to military supplies and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down concerns on Friday.

But Washington has only just begun to work through its new plan to suspend up to roughly $2 billion in U.S. security assistance, announced on Thursday. It came days after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that Pakistan had rewarded past U.S. aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”

The senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington hoped that the aid suspension would be enough to communicate its concern to Islamabad.

But the official cautioned that the freeze was also not the only tool that America had to pressure the country — suggesting it might resort to other measures, if needed.

“We are considering many different things, not just the (financial) assistance issue,” the official said.

“We are also looking at Pakistan’s potential response … and we are looking at ways to deal with that and to mitigate the risks to the relationship.”

The official declined to detail what steps were under consideration, including whether that might include possible unilateral U.S. military action against militants in Pakistan.

But as Trump allow the U.S. military to again ramp up its war effort in Afghanistan, including with the deployment of more U.S. troops alongside Afghan forces, the official acknowledged a sense of urgency.

The United States has long blamed the militant safehavens in Pakistan for prolonging the war in Afghanistan, giving insurgents, including from the Haqqani network, a place to plot attacks and rebuild its forces.

“We believe we owe it to the Americans in harms’ way in Afghanistan. We simply can’t ignore the sanctuaries if we are going to make progress in Afghanistan,” the official said.

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