WASHINGTON – The Obama administration plans to seek as much as $3 billion over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan’s military, and is considering sending 10,000 more troops to battle the Taliban in Afghanistan, defense officials said Wednesday.
The money would include $500 million in an additional war budget request for the coming year that will go to Congress this month, The Associated Press has learned.
In outlining the spending program publicly for the first time, defense officials told the Senate Armed Services Committee it is critical to train and equip the Pakistanis so they have the skills and will to fight.
The $3 billion for Pakistan would complement a plan for $7.5 billion in civilian aid. That civilian request would come in legislation sponsored by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, and the committee’s top Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana.
With the administration’s backing, their bill would provide $1.5 billion next year, linked to Pakistan’s counterterrorism and democracy-building efforts, officials said.
Defense and other administration officials spoke about the spending plans on condition of anonymity because the specific budget requests have not been released.
Also Wednesday, senators questioned Gen. David Petraeus, who heads U.S. Central Command, and Undersecretary Michele Flournoy over the possible deployment of 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Petraeus said he had forwarded the proposed increase to the Pentagon. That plan could mean stationing nearly 80,000 American forces in the country by next year. There are 38,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan.
Lawmakers asked why the extra brigade and headquarters unit requested by Gen. David McKiernan, who oversees U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had not yet been approved by President Barack Obama.
“I think it would be far, far better to announce that we will have the additional 10,000 troops dispatched,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “To dribble out these decisions, I think, can create the impression of incrementalism.”
Flournoy said Obama is aware of the request, but was told he does not have to consider it until this fall because the additional troops won’t be needed until next year. By the fall, she said, McKiernan will have had time to reassess his troop needs.
The spending plan, defense officials said, would give commanders greater leeway to spend money more quickly to meet the needs of the Pakistani military, such as night vision goggles and communications equipment.
There have been complaints that Pakistan’s military is not doing enough to take on the fight against the extremists who use the ungoverned border as a staging area for attacks into Afghanistan.
“The will is growing, but the will is also helped enormously by a sense that we are going to be with them,” Petraeus said. “If they don’t sense that, they will cut another deal.”
The spending plan would include counterinsurgency training so the Pakistanis can better attack al-Qaida safe havens in the border region.
The Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he disagreed with the administration’s argument that progress in Afghanistan depends on success on the Pakistan side of the border.
He said Afghanistan’s future should not be tied totally to the Pakistan government’s decisions. He also was skeptical about Pakistan’s ability to secure its border.
The defense leaders, including Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, told senators the situation in Afghanistan is dire and that progress will demand a substantial, sustained commitment.
Senators sounded largely supportive about the spending, but said the administration has yet to set clear benchmarks to determine whether the war strategy is working.
“We should not be committing additional troops before we have a means of measuring whether this strategy is successful,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.