ISLAMABAD - Measures to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for Pakistan in the recently passed U.S. defense authorization bill for 2012 have been labeled counterproductive by regional experts.
The measures seek to withhold $700 million for Pakistan until Congress is convinced by the defense secretary that Islamabad is moving to combat the IEDs used to attack NATO/ISAF troops in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government and military have not released a response to the measures.
However, former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, said the measures were "petty and spiteful" and "put in place by politicians who are anxious to play the patriotism card to win votes."
He said the measures were also unworkable as one of the main concerns of U.S authorities was to restrict the flow of fertilizer from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Fertilizer from Pakistan is a main ingredient in the production of homemade explosives.
Cloughley said that fertilizer was desperately needed in Afghanistan because of the generally poor soil quality and, therefore, he believes the fertilizer would be imported regardless of what the U.S. Congress wants.
"There is no possible means of detecting it other than individual search of every truck moving through official border check posts, including, of course, via northern routes," Cloughley said.
Cloughley added: "Fertilizer doesn't come only from Pakistan. It, along with much other contraband, enters through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; probably Iran, too."
He said Congress had also ignored the fact that "over 150,000 Pakistani troops have been committed to the western border, more than the U.S. and ISAF have in the whole of Afghanistan", and that "of the claimed 170,000 Afghan army troops supposed to be serving … only 3,000 to 4,000 [troops] are in the east of the country."
Even if Pakistan was able to stop the flow of fertilizer through the border crossings, Cloughley said smugglers would resort to more simple measures by loading it onto donkeys trained to make their own way across the border.
The withholding of finances is a keenly felt issue in Pakistan.
Analyst Haris Khan, of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, said "Under the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) aid, no money or funds have been released since June 2011."
The Pakistani government and military have been somewhat silent on the non-payment of funds, Khan said.
Kahn described the silence in terms of the continued non-reimbursement of payments Pakistan made for 28 embargoed F-16C/Ds under the Pressler Amendment in the 1990s. Pakistan initially continued to make payments for the embargoed aircraft despite it being unlikely they would be released.
He said Pakistan should take a more forceful and "businesslike" approach to the non-payment of funds for services rendered, and be more active in demanding payments.
Just what Pakistan can do in this regard is uncertain, as all movement of NATO supplies through Pakistan has already stopped due to the NATO/ISAF attacks on two border posts on the night of Nov. 25/ 26.
Pakistan may not have much leverage, but Cloughley said he believes the U.S. is also in a similar position.
While the measures sound very severe, Cloughley said, "the freeze will not affect Pakistan gravely."
Ultimately, Cloughley said the measures are counterproductive as the "only definite outcome" will be "increased distrust and hatred of the U.S. throughout Pakistan."
BAGHDAD - NATO ended its training mission in Iraq on Dec. 17 as alliance officials lamented the collapse of a deal to extend it because Baghdad refused to grant its troops immunity from prosecution.
U.S. LT. GEN. Robert Caslen, center, the head of the NATO training mission in Iraq, stands next to Iraqi Chief of Staff Abu Baker Zebari, second from left, while addressing a ceremony in Baghdad marking the end of NATO's training mission there on Dec (Sabah Arar / AFP)
U.S. Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the head of the NATO training mission, said the alliance had been willing to sign a deal with Iraq's government and did not require parliamentary approval, but Baghdad's lawyers said MPs would need to vote on any pact.
By contrast, the collapse of an agreement for a post-2011 U.S. training mission, which was being discussed between Baghdad and Washington, was due to the U.S.'s insistance that it be approved by lawmakers.
The United States has signed over its final base in the country, and virtually all remaining American forces in Iraq are due out in the coming days.
Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, said in a letter addressed to Caslen and read at Dec. 17's ceremony that "there were hopes to continue the mission beyond 2011, and we are concluding earlier than we had hoped."
Caslen told reporters after the ceremony that NATO was willing to sign an agreement with Iraq's executive, "but ... as the lawyers reviewed it and looked at it, they thought that the immunities had to go back down to the parliament."
"They knew they weren't going to get that (approved)," he said.
He continued: "The secretary general of NATO had the authority to go ahead and approve it with whatever (authority) the Iraqi government decided."
"So the issue ended up being who in the Iraqi government had the authority to approve this ... It turned out to be, Iraqi law said the authority had to be at the legislative level."
He added that the lack of a post-2011 NATO training mission was "unfortunate".
On Nov. 29, a NATO spokesman said the alliance had been asked by Maliki to "extend its training mission until the end of 2013" and that it had "accepted this request in principle."
NATO's training mission in Iraq was aimed at assisting "in the development of Iraqi security forces training structures and institutions," and as of November 2011, 12 countries were represented in its force, comprising around120 soldiers.
All will leave by year's-end. A post-2011 training mission would have involved around 110 NATO soldiers, Caslen said.
WASHINGTON - The United States, facing a rising China but a tighter budget, expects to station several combat ships in Singapore and may step up deployments to the Philippines and Thailand, a naval officer said.
ADM. JONATHAN GREENERT speaks during a ceremony in September at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. In an academic article, Greenet said the U.S. Navy will stations its newest littoral combat ships in Singapore. (MCS 2nd Class Shannon Eve Renfroe / Navy)
The United States has been increasingly vocal about defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where tensions over territorial disputes between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations have been on the rise.
In an academic article forecasting the shape of the U.S. Navy in 2025, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, wrote that "we will station several of our newest littoral combat ships" in Singapore.
Greenert said that the United States may also step up the periodic deployment of aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon - which is being developed to track submarines - to regional treaty allies the Philippines and Thailand.
"The Navy will need innovative approaches to staying forward around the world to address growing concerns about freedom of the seas while being judicious with our resources," he wrote in the December issue of the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings.
"Because we will probably not be able to sustain the financial and diplomatic cost of new main operating bases abroad, the fleet of 2025 will rely more on host-nation ports and other facilities where our ships, aircraft, and crews can refuel, rest, resupply and repair while deployed," he wrote.
The naval officer did not directly mention China, as part of the usual policy by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to publicly seek a more cooperative relationship with the growing Asian power.
But the United States has laid bare its concerns about China.
Obama last month announced that the United States would post up to 2,500 Marines in the northern Australian city of Darwin by 2016-17, a move criticized by Beijing.
The United States also has some 70,000 troops stationed in Japan and South Korea under longstanding alliances and has offered assistance to the Philippines which launched its newest warship on Dec. 14.
Singapore is also a long-standing partner of the United States. The U.S. military already operates a small post in the city-state that assists in logistics and exercises for forces in Southeast Asia.
In the article, Greenert described the Gulf monarchy of Bahrain as a model. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based on the small island which is strategically close to Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
"In 2025 the Navy will operate from a larger number of partner nations such as Bahrain to more affordably maintain our forward posture around the world," he wrote.
The United States spent some $700 billion on its military in the past year, far more than any other country, and many lawmakers accept the need for cuts as the Iraq and Afghan operations wind down.
The Obama administration has identified Asia - full of fast-growing economies and with a still emerging security order - as the key priority for the United States.
Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta all traveled to Asia in recent months to hammer home the message that the United States will not leave the region despite economic woes at home.
"As the United States puts our fiscal house in order, we are reducing our spending," Obama said in his speech in Darwin.
But he added: "Here is what this region must know. As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority."
Naval power, critical to the rise of the United States and earlier Britain as global powers, is expected to remain critical in the 21st century.
China has developed its first aircraft carrier, which has undergone two sea trials this year. An image of the 300-meter (990-foot) refitted former Soviet carrier was captured by U.S.-based company Digital Globe Inc.
TRIPOLI - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Tripoli could become an important security partner of Washington as he visited Libya on Dec. 17 for talks with new regime officials.
"We are and will be your friend and partner," Panetta said at a news conference with Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib.
"This new and free Libya can become an important security partner of the United States," he said, adding that Washington was looking forward to building a close partnership.
"We stand ready to offer whatever assistance in the spirit of friendship and a spirit of mutual respect."
But Panetta, who also met Defense Minister Osama Jouili, stressed that his talks in Tripoli did not involve military equipment.
"At this stage there was certainly no discussions involving arms or military equipment," he said when asked about the type of security cooperation he envisioned.
Earlier he had told the travelling press, including an AFP correspondent, that his brief visit to Tripoli was to confer with the country's new rulers on the security needs of their government.
"The purpose of my trip to Libya is to have an opportunity to look at that situation up close but to also pay tribute to the Libyan people to what they did in bringing (former leader Moammar) Gadhafi down and trying to establish a government for the future," Panetta said.
He acknowledged that Libya's rulers would face huge challenges but said he was confident they would "succeed in putting a democracy together in Libya."
"I'm confident that they're taking the right steps to reach out to all these groups and bring them together so that they will be part of one Libya and that they will be part of one defense system," he said.
Panetta said he expected the Libyans "to determine the future of Libya" and "determine what assistance they require from the United States and the international community."
Libya's rulers are facing a big challenge as they try to disarm militiamen who fought to topple Gadhafi and secure thousands of surface-to-air missiles stockpiled under the former regime.
Pressure to disarm the former rebels has mounted after local media reported several skirmishes between militia factions in Tripoli, with some resulting in casualties.
There are concerns that the Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS, could be used by militant groups against commercial airliners and helicopters.
For his part Libya's interim premier said the United States was willing to help Libya "without any interference."
Kib also acknowledged that his government had a difficult task ahead.
"We know how serious the issue is," he said, adding: "I'm very optimistic."
"The Libyan people are known to be peaceful and I'm sure that they will be back to that mentality," he said in English.
Panetta's visit came a day after the United Nations and the United States lifted sanctions on Libya's central bank in a bid to ease a cash crunch in the post-Gadhafi era, diplomats said.
The U.N. Security Council ended a freeze on the assets of the Central Bank of Libya and the Libyan Foreign Bank, which was ordered in February as part of sanctions against Gadhafi.
The U.S. government said it would be freeing more than $30 billion (23billion euros) of assets belonging to the central bank and LFB in a bid to help the new Libyan government.
The Tripoli authorities have stepped up calls in recent weeks to release the estimated $150 billion frozen abroad to help pay salaries and keep services running.
On top of the $30 billion held in the United States, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government would immediately act to free about 6.5 billion pounds ($10 billion) held in Britain.
The easing of the sanctions "marks another significant moment in Libya's transition," Hague said in a statement.
"It means that Libya's government will now have full access to the significant funds needed to help rebuild the country, to underpin stability and to ensure that Libyans can make the transactions that are essential to everyday life."
Panetta was also to lay a wreath at the graves of 13 U.S. sailors killed in 1804 when their ship exploded during the very first foreign intervention by military forces of the recently independent United States against pirates based in North Africa.
He travelled to Libya from Turkey, where he held wide-ranging talks. On Dec. 15, he was in Iraq to take part in a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. mission there.
SEOUL - North Korea has agreed to suspend its enriched-uranium nuclear weapons program, a key United States demand for the resumption of disarmament talks, news reports said Dec. 17.
Yonhap news agency and the Chosun Ilbo daily quoted an unidentified diplomatic source saying that Washington had also agreed to provide the North with up to 240,000 tons of food aid.
Pyongyang pledged "to implement initial measures of denuclearization that include a suspension of its uranium enrichment program," Yonhap said.
The North apparently agreed to put stricter and clearer monitoring systems in place to ensure that the food aid reached those most in need, according to the source, Yonhap said.
The agreements came when Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, met with Ri Gun, head of North American affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 in Beijing, the source said.
The reports could not be independently confirmed.
Suspending the uranium enrichment program - first disclosed by the North one year ago - is a key demand of Washington's before six-party negotiation scan resume.
The North quit the six-party forum - which also includes China, Russia, Japan and South Korea - in April 2009, one month before its second nuclear test.
Pyongyang has long said it wanted the six-nation talks to re-start, but without preconditions. But the United States says the North must first show "seriousness of purpose" by shutting down the enrichment program.
According to both Yonhap and Chosun Ilbo, the two countries were likely to hold a third round of talks this coming week in Beijing to discuss resuming the six-party talks.
Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, will likely meet with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan in Beijing around Dec. 22, the source said.
North Korea was promised 500,000 tons of food aid from the United States when it dismantled part of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon in 2008. It had received 170,000 tons by the time the aid was suspended in 2009 as tensions worsened over the North's nuclear programs.
KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian shipbuilder says it has won a 9 billion ringgit ($2.8 billion) deal from Kuala Lumpur for six naval vessels developed by French manufacturer DCNS.
In a filing with the local bourse Dec. 16, Boustead Naval Shipyard said it was given a letter of award by the Malaysian defense ministry to build and deliver six "second generation patrol vessels littoral combat ships."
"The delivery of the first of class ship is estimated in 2017 with follow on ships every six months thereafter," it added.
Last week Boustead said it had been selected by Malaysia's navy to build the corvettes, which DCNS says can stay at sea for three weeks and are designed to navigate coastal areas and island groups to fight piracy and patrol fisheries. The vessels are 330 feet long and can each transport one EC275 helicopter made by Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS.
DCNS already had a relationship with Boustead through a joint venture in 2009 to maintain two diesel-propelled Scorpene submarines used by the Malaysian navy.
DCNS has previously sold 11 frigates to Malaysia's neighbor Singapore, five of which were built in the city-state.