Senior U.S. senators urge halt to Pakistan aid

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Several senior U.S. Senate Democrats are urging the Obama administration not to disburse any more security aid to Pakistan until it is sure Islamabad is not letting al Qaeda and other militant groups operate there.

After U.S. special forces found and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan military town May 2, U.S. lawmakers from both parties are questioning whether billions of dollars in annual U.S. aid to Pakistan should continue.

The letter to Pentagon chief Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was written by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, as well as Senators Robert Menendez, Ben Nelson and Jon Tester.

The discovery of bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad “indicates, at a minimum, a lack of commitment by the Pakistani military to aggressive cooperation with the United States,” the senators told Gates and Clinton.

“It is incongruous to be providing enormous sums to the Pakistani military unless we are certain that it is meeting its commitment to locate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist threats inside its borders,” they said in the letter dated Tuesday.

“Prior to the provision of any additional assistance … we urge you to assess Pakistan’s commitment,” they said.

Over $2 billion in security aid and reimbursements approved in mid-April by Congress could be held up.

Feinstein, Nelson and Tester are also on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will help decide whether Congress will allocate Pakistan any more U.S. aid.

But some congressional leaders are urging caution, saying Pakistan has also lost many of its own soldiers fighting extremist groups in its border areas.

“This is not the time to start flexing our muscles,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Tuesday. “This is the time to withhold judgment” until more is known about whether Pakistani officials knew where bin Laden was hiding.

Over the last decade, Congress has approved about $20 billion for Pakistan in economic aid and military reimbursements for helping to fight extremists in the region. About half of this has been security-related. (REUTERS)