WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary James Mattis said that the Pentagon was maintaining its communication with the Pakistani military establishment, including with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, even after suspending its security assistance to Pakistan.
“I think, yesterday Gen Joseph Votel was on the phone with Gen Bajwa, the chief of the army staff. And we’ll continue to coordinate this,” he said at an afternoon news briefing at the Pentagon.
“Obviously, we’ll continue talking with one another, as we are at all times,” said the US defence chief, but he did not clarify if the conversation took place before or after Washington announced the aid suspension.
As commander of the US Central Command, Gen Votel is directly responsible for US war efforts in Afghanistan where Washington still maintains about 14,000 troops and other military assets.
Mr Mattis said the Trump administration considered all possibilities before suspending its military assistance to Pakistan and was not worried about Islamabad shutting off supplies to Afghanistan in retaliation.
“I’m not concerned, no,” he said when asked if the suspension could lead Pakistan to cut off supply lines, adding that he had not received any indication from Islamabad that it might block supply lines.
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Mattis said “no” again when asked if he was worried that China would move in to fill the gap created by the absence of US military aid to Pakistan.
A senior Trump administration official told journalists in Washington that the suspension would cost Pakistan an estimated $2 billion in military funding and equipment during the current and next fiscal years.
Unlike Mr Mattis, the official acknowledged that Islamabad could cut off supply routes to Afghanistan but insisted that “unless we deal with the Pakistan sanctuary issue, it will undermine all of our other efforts in Afghanistan”.
At a third briefing, two US State Department officials said the suspension could affect Foreign Military Financing carried forward from 2016 as well as previous funds not yet been spent or delivered.
US media reports indicated that the suspension could also jeopardise almost $1bn of US military equipment, some of which are already in the pipeline.