- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

Facing the prospect of more American deaths in Afghanistan as the war escalates, lawmakers lashed out at neighboring Pakistan on Thursday as an unreliable ally that could spare the U.S. its bruising fight with al Qaeda if it wanted.

“They don’t seem to want a strategic relationship,” Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said of the government in Islamabad. “They want the money. They want the equipment. But at the end of the day, they don’t want a relationship that costs them too much.”

A crucial ally in fighting the al Qaeda terrorist network, Pakistan is also a major recipient of U.S. aid. President Obama and Congress recently approved a $7.5 billion aid package for economic and social programs in Pakistan in a bid to strengthen the civilian government there.

But many in Congress have grown skeptical that Islamabad is doing all it can to drive out al Qaeda forces hiding along its mountainous Afghan border. Those doubts reached a new pitch this week after Mr. Obama’s announcement that he will send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan by next fall, with the anticipation that they would start coming home in July 2011.

Mr. Obama has not said whether or how the troop buildup would accelerate attacks on the terrorist network hiding in Pakistan. The U.S. has previously relied on drone-launched missile strikes, and those operations are classified.

“It is not clear how an expanded military effort in Afghanistan addresses the problem of Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens across the border in Pakistan,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Testifying for the second day on Mr. Obama’s new war plan, the president’s chief military and diplomatic advisers said Pakistan was a critical component of the strategy.

“We have a lot of work to do in trying to convince them that we’re not trying to take over their country, that we’re not trying to take control of their nuclear weapons and that we are actually interested in a long-term partnership with them,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

Several Democrats, including Mr. Menendez and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, have threatened to withhold their support for more money for the war, although lawmakers said it was unlikely that Congress would try to block the deployments. Instead, members from both parties say they want to find a way to pay for the troop increase that won’t add to the deficit.

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