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'A mad scramble': How Trump tweet on Pakistan blindsided U.S. officials


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'A mad scramble': How Trump tweet on Pakistan blindsided U.S. officials

By Jonathan Landay, Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott



U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A surprise New Year's Day tweet by President Donald Trump in which he appeared to decree an end to U.S. aid for Pakistan, sent U.S. officials scrambling to suspend security assistance without even knowing how much aid they were freezing, four U.S. officials said.


The decision to freeze up to about $2 billion in security aid, according to a later estimate by U.S. officials, to a nuclear-armed ally is the latest example of how, nearly a year into Trump's presidency, U.S. officials sometimes have to scurry to turn his tweets into policy. (For a graphic of historical U.S. aid to Pakistan, click here: http://tmsnrt.rs/2DbVEyQ)


The Trump administration had been weighing an aid freeze for months, including in a meeting of top national security advisers before Christmas. Washington has for years demanded that Islamabad stop providing sanctuary and other support for the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network.


At the time of Trump's tweet, a U.S. assessment of Pakistani compliance with those demands was still under way. A cohesive U.S. policy - including preparations for possible Pakistani reaction - was not expected to be completed until March or April, three U.S. officials interviewed said.


"None of the elements of a coherent policy was in place, or even close at hand, when the president, in effect, made a policy announcement," said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity. "Despite a mad scramble to backfill a tweet, we still don't have ... an effective policy in place."


Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, did not address whether the tweet had sped up the policy process, saying Trump had made clear his intent to take a new, tougher stance toward Pakistan as part of the Afghanistan war strategy he unveiled in August.


"This action is being taken after months of careful interagency review. Any suggestion to the contrary is false," he said.


The State Department declined to comment.


Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida when he posted his tweet at 7:12 a.m. on Jan. 1, after hosting a lavish New Year's Eve party. Until then he had kept a relatively low public profile while he mostly golfed.


The United States, he tweeted, had "foolishly" given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid and "they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"


    It is not clear what prompted Trump to issue the tweet, which infuriated Pakistani officials. Pakistan’s National Security Committee of senior civilian and military chiefs denounced it as “completely incomprehensible.” U.S. Ambassador David Hale was summoned to the foreign ministry for an explanation.


Caught by surprise on their New Year's Day holiday, a small group of White House aides and other top officials scrambled to make good on the president's unexpected statement, said a senior U.S. official who was part of the consultations.


There was no time to issue a formal White House policy directive outlining the amount of frozen funds, four officials said.


    When the administration confirmed that it was suspending security aid to Pakistan four days after Trump’s tweet, the State Department was still not able to quantify how much aid was at stake, underscoring how far U.S. officials had been from implementing any policy before the president's statement.


U.S. officials later said the decision could affect about $1 billion in planned security assistance and $900 million to reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations.


Another sign of the haste was the failure to give Pakistan the usual diplomatic courtesy of a warning before the president's tweet, U.S. officials said.


Perhaps most seriously, they said, there was no time to prepare for possible retaliation.




The Pentagon and State Department were especially concerned that the Pakistani army, which effectively runs foreign policy, might close the air and land corridors on which U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces in landlocked Afghanistan depend for supplies, the officials said. So far, Pakistan has not done so.


At the time the decision was made, there was no agreement with neighbouring countries for alternative routes, five U.S. officials said.


"It appeared to be a tweet in search of a strategy," said Dan Feldman, a former U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.


"There seemed to be a flurry of inter-agency activity after that tweet to arrive at some sort of policy to frame it ... to prove it wasn't just an impulsive tweet."


It was not the first time that U.S. officials have been caught off guard by Trump's fondness for formulating policy by tweet.


Last year, Trump tweeted that the U.S. government would not accept transgender people to serve in the military, catching the Pentagon leadership by surprise. His statement eventually had to be walked back.


(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Ross Colvin)

-- © Copyright Reuters 2018-01-12
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16 minutes ago, Emster23 said:

The man is an impulsive clueless child unable to see more than five minutes into the future. In the grand game of international politics he is a coin flipper among chess masters

Thrump is an example about how well democracy works. 

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9 hours ago, webfact said:

the Pakistani army, which effectively runs foreign policy, might close the air and land corridors on which U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces in landlocked Afghanistan depend for supplies

Even more ominous if the Pakistan military doesn't detain or deport NATO military who are supplying goods, food and gear from the Port of Karachi.

In 2011 Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies following a series of incidents that brought relations between the US and Pakistan to all-time lows. NATO then had to rely on cargo flights and a more costly northern route through Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/us-military-weighs-options-in-case-pakistan-blocks-afghan-supply-lines-1796790

Good luck with that option again.

By not allowing US military to plan for possible Pakistan reactions, Trump is putting NATO forces at risk.

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2 hours ago, jinners said:

Good for him. Wish UK would do the same with these Islamic double dealing misogynists. Let em shuffle off on their own flag burning rabid chanting screwed up selves.

Fortunately the people in power in the UK are actually sane, so that isn't going to happen.

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Good for him, bad on them. It seems to be taking these government sloths a lot of time to realize that when President Trump says something is going to happen, it does. He warned them months ago and they sat back on their haunches and did nothing to prepare. Then when he made it policy they're all scrabbling around like they never knew it was coming. This is the type of lazy, lackadaisical government work he's trying to get rid of in Washington. You don't need to form a panel to start an investigation to create a study of something that has been glaringly obvious for years.

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On 1/12/2018 at 3:42 PM, dunroaming said:

Fortunately the people in power in the UK are actually sane, so that isn't going to happen.

No they are not. They are weak amoral and lacking any sanity or similar human trait.

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