By ERIC SCHMITT and JANE PERLEZ
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is suspending and, in some cases, canceling hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Pakistani military, in a move to chasten Pakistan for expelling American military trainers and to press its army to fight militants more effectively.
Coupled with a statement from the top American military officer last week linking Pakistan’s military spy agency to the recent murder of a Pakistani journalist, the halting or withdrawal of military equipment and other aid to Pakistan illustrates the depth of the debate inside the Obama administration over how to change the behavior of one of its key counterterrorism partners.
Altogether, about $800 million in military aid and equipment, or over one-third of the more than $2 billion in annual American security assistance to Pakistan, could be affected, three senior United States officials said.
This aid includes about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for some of the costs of deploying more than 100,000 soldiers along the Afghan border to combat terrorism, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in training assistance and military hardware, according to half a dozen Congressional, Pentagon and other administration officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the politically delicate matter.
Some of the curtailed aid is equipment that the United States wants to send but Pakistan now refuses to accept, like rifles, ammunition, body armor and bomb-disposal gear that were withdrawn or held up after Pakistan ordered more than 100 Army Special Forces trainers to leave the country in recent weeks.
Some is equipment, such as radios, night-vision goggles and helicopter spare parts, which cannot be set up, certified or used for training because Pakistan has denied visas to the American personnel needed to operate the equipment, two senior Pentagon officials said.
And some is assistance like the reimbursements for troop costs, which is being reviewed in light of questions about Pakistan’s commitment to carry out counterterrorism operations. For example, the United States recently provided Pakistan with information about suspected bomb-making factories, only to have the insurgents vanish before Pakistani security forces arrived a few days later.
“When it comes to our military aid,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Senate committee last month “we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see certain steps taken.”
American officials say they would probably resume equipment deliveries and aid if relations improve and Pakistan pursues terrorists more aggressively. The cutoffs do not affect any immediate deliveries of military sales to Pakistan, like F-16 fighter jets, or nonmilitary aid, the officials said.
Pakistan’s precise military budget is not known, and while the American aid cutoff would probably have a small impact on the overall military budget, it would most directly affect the counterinsurgency campaign. The Pakistani Army spends nearly one-quarter of the nation’s annual expenditures, according to K. Alan Kronstadt of the Congressional Research Service.
While some senior administration officials have concluded that Pakistan will never be the kind of partner the administration hoped for when President Obama entered office, others emphasize that the United States cannot risk a full break in relations or a complete cutoff of aid akin to what happened in the 1990s, when Pakistan was caught developing nuclear weapons.
But many of the recent aid curtailments are clearly intended to force the Pakistani military to make a difficult choice between backing the country that finances much of its operations and equipment, or continuing to provide secret support for the Taliban and other militants fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan.
“We have to continue to emphasize with the Pakistanis that in the end it’s in their interest to be able to go after these targets as well,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told reporters on Friday en route to Afghanistan.
Some American officials say Pakistan has only itself to blame, citing the Pakistani military’s decision to distance itself from American assistance in response to the humiliation suffered from the American commando raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden, as well as rising anger from midlevel Pakistani officers and the Pakistani public that senior military leaders, including Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful army chief of staff, are too accommodating to the Americans.
Pakistan shut down the American program to help train Pakistani paramilitary troops fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the lawless border regions near Afghanistan, prompting the Americans to take with them equipment Pakistani troops used. The Central Intelligence Agency has been relying more heavily on flying armed drones from Afghanistan since Pakistan threatened to close down a base the C.I.A. was using inside the country.
But in private briefings to senior Congressional staff members last month, Pentagon officials made clear that they were taking a tougher line toward Pakistan and reassessing whether it could still be an effective partner in fighting terrorists.
“They wanted to tell us, ‘Guys, we’re delivering the message that this is not business as usual and we’ve got this under control,’ ” one senior Senate aide said.
Comments last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also reflected a potentially more confrontational approach to Pakistan. Admiral Mullen, who is retiring in two months, became the first American official to publicly accuse Pakistan of ordering the kidnapping, torture and death of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, whose mutilated body was found in early June.
Besides the growing tensions, the slowdown in aid can also be attributed to tightening military budgets as lawmakers seek deeper cuts in Pentagon spending to help address the mounting government debt.
There is growing opposition on Capitol Hill to sending security assistance to Pakistan. Last week, the Republican-controlled House approved a Pentagon budget bill that limits the Defense Department from spending more than 25 percent of its projected $1.1 billion budget for training and equipping Pakistani troops next year, unless the secretaries of defense and state submit a report to Congress showing how the money will be spent to combat insurgencies.
The Pakistani military is the most important institution in the country. But it has been under intense domestic and international pressure because of the humiliation of the Bin Laden raid, an attack on Pakistan’s main navy base in Karachi weeks later, and continuing fallout from the arrest and subsequent release of a C.I.A. security contractor, Raymond A. Davis, who shot and killed two Pakistanis in January in what he said was a robbery.
The United States has long debated how hard it can push Pakistan to attack militant strongholds in the tribal area. Washington, however, depends on Pakistan as a major supply route into Afghanistan. American officials also want to monitor as closely as they can Pakistan’s burgeoning nuclear weapons arsenal.
The decision to hold back much of the American military aid has not been made public by the Pakistani military or the civilian government. But it is well known at the top levels of the military, and a senior Pakistani official described it as an effort by the Americans to gain “leverage.”
A former Pakistani diplomat, Maleeha Lodhi, who served twice as ambassador to the United States, said the Pentagon action was short-sighted, and was likely to produce greater distance between the two countries.
“It will be repeating a historic blunder and hurting itself in the bargain by using a blunt instrument of policy at a time when it needs Pakistan’s help to defeat Al Qaeda and make an honorable retreat from Afghanistan,” Ms. Lodhi said of the United States.
Washington imposed sanctions on Pakistan in the 1990s, and in the process lost influence with the Pakistani military, Ms. Lodhi said. Similarly, the Obama administration would find itself out in the cold with the Pakistani Army if it held up funds, she said.
Within the Pakistani Army, the hold on American assistance would be viewed as “an unfriendly act and total disregard of the sacrifices made by the army,” said Brig. Javed Hussain, a retired special forces officer.