US military weighs supply options amid Pakistan spat

Washington (AFP) – Pentagon officials are watching for Pakistan’s next moves after Washington froze security aid payments to Islamabad, saying it is not doing enough to target Afghan Taliban and Haqqani group bases.

The Trump administration’s decision to withhold hundreds of millions from its “coalition support funds” has riled Pakistan, with some there calling for retaliatory measures that might hamper America’s warfighting efforts in neighboring Afghanistan.

Most problematic for America as it wages its 16-year war in Afghanistan would be if Pakistan suddenly shut its border points into the country, stemming the vital flow of goods, food and gear from the port at Karachi.

Though US officials insisted they’d seen no evidence Islamabad was planning such a move, it has happened before.

In 2011, Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies following a series of incidents that brought relations between the US and Pakistan to all-time lows.

These incidents included a botched American air raid and the killing of Osama bin Laden, who was living in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

At the time, the US-led forces in Afghanistan endured the closure by relying on cargo flights and a more costly northern route through Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Citing security reasons, the Pentagon declined to provide percentages of US supplies going into Afghanistan through Pakistan, but Afghan security forces in particular rely on the supply lines through Pakistan, with a stream of trucks hauling a plethora of goods into the landlocked country.

While the US favors Pakistan supply routes because of cost, officials stressed America has built “flexibility and redundancy” into its supply chains.

“As military planners, we develop multiple supply chain contingencies to sustain theater requirements to maintain the train, advise and assist mission to the Afghan National Defense Security Forces,” Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner told AFP.

In Pakistan, several figures were quick to call on their government to close supply lines, including opposition leader Imran Khan.

“The time (has) come to stand firm and give a strong response to the US,” Khan said in a statement.

“We must deny the US (supply route) facilities which we were providing the US free of charge.”

But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Pentagon reporters he had gotten no indication the Pakistanis were going to shut off ground supply lines, or air overflights.

– ‘Humongous problem’

“I am not concerned about them,” he said, referring…

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