Pakistan pits CENTCOM commander against Trump administration

In a conversation with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, the Pakistani military claimed CENTCOM commander General Joseph Votel said the idea that the Taliban uses Pakistan as a safe haven is “undermining … Pakistan’s contributions in war against terrorism” in Washington. Pakistan’s characterization of the conversation would seemingly pit General Votel directly against the Trump administration, which has decided to take a hard line against Pakistan for its ongoing support of jihadists in Afghanistan.

CENTCOM declined to comment to FDD’s Long War Journal on Pakistan’s view of Votel’s conversation but said it remains “in continuous communication with the Pakistan military.”

The Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) division published its version of the discussion between Generals Votel and Bajwa on Jan. 12 in a statement entitled “Pak-US security cooperation post the President Trump tweet.”

The ISPR was referring to Trump’s Jan. 1 tweet where he excoriated Pakistan for receiving $33 billion in US aid over the past 16 years but then continued to shelter and support the Taliban. The US government subsequently cut off all funding to the Security Assistance and Coalition Support Fund, which reimbursed Pakistan for expenses incurred while fighting terrorist groups.

The trouble for the US is that Pakistan only fights terrorist groups of convenience. The Pakistani military normally only targets groups that threaten Pakistan, such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, but continues to harbor and support others such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – or the so-called “good Taliban.”

According to the ISPR, Votel told Bajwa that the United States “values Pakistan’s role towards war on terror” and that he expected the “on-going turbulence,” or the war of words between the US and Pakistan, and the suspension of aid “a temporary phase.”

Votel then said, according to the ISPR, that the US military “is not contemplating any unilateral action inside Pakistan,” presumably special operations raids or airstrikes against Taliban leaders or support nodes, “but is seeking cooperation to tackle Afghan nationals who, in US view, use Pakistan’s soil against Afghanistan.”

In other words, the ISPR said that Votel told Bajwa that the US would not attack the Taliban but instead is looking for Pakistani cooperation to stop Taliban operations on Pakistani soil.

The ISPR then made a statement that, if accurately quoted by the ISPR, would pit General Votel directly against the Trump administration, which has decided to take a hard line against Pakistan for its ongoing support of jihadists in Afghanistan.

“This view [that Pakistan is supporting the Afghan Taliban], he [General Votel] felt, was undermining in Washington, Pakistan’s contributions in war against terrorism,” the ISPR reported.

Or, put another way, General Votel allegedly said that President Trump’s comments about Pakistan’s support to the Afghan Taliban is “undermining … Pakistan’s contributions in war against terrorism.”

FDD’s Long War Journal contacted CENTCOM for comment on the ISPR statement and the characterization of Votel’s conversation with Bajwa. CENTCOM declined to comment on the ISPR statement.

However, CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas issued the following statement:

U.S. Central Command is in continuous communication with the Pakistan military, including recurring conversations between General Votel and Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Bajwa. We value mutual understanding of interests and concerns that we need to consider that might lead to a positive path forward.

While CENTCOM chose to avoid sparking controversy over the ISPR’s statement in order to keep the lines of communication open with the Pakistani military, it may have undermined General Votel’s standing with the Trump administration.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

  • DirkD. says:

    What should really matter is what is actually occurring in Pakistan. Has Pakistan knowingly harbored any Taliban- or related terrorists? If not, Trump needs to send out an apology and adjust his administrations policy. If he is correct in his statement, the military leaders should either get on board or retire.

  • Thomas Houlahan says:

    Votel should not have any standing with the administration if it knows what it is doing. He is an incompetent, boot-licking opportunist. He was a political appointment so typical of the Obama years. He lacked the heavy unit time that should have been a prerequisite for CENTCOM command. He was also a failure at both JSOC and SOCOM. The sooner Trump gets rid of him, the better.

  • Bob Baker says:

    Terrorists in A-stan don’t cross the border anymore? Bin Laden wasn’t really down the street from a military installation in Pakistan when we took him? China hasn’t built a port and doesn’t want to build a fort nearby?

  • Ken says:

    Reminds me of stuff I read in “Stalin’s Secret Agents.” A book by Evans and Romerstein. Things never go as neat and tidy as some want to believe. We seem to muddle our way through despite all the political and back stabbing.

  • greg says:

    Pakistan is fighting an uphill battle if they think pointing out a small contradiction in Trump’s stance vs Votel will shame the Donald into making any type of policy change. It will probably have the opposite effect and prompt the egotistical spitemonger to punish them more. Pakistan should read our news and understand that even when the President is mic’ed up and recorded, he denies he ever said some of the things we have heard him say…..and he gets away with it.

  • TRM says:

    We should believe anything ISI says?

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    I saw the (alleged) quote in the Pakistani press when the ISPR put it out. The statement by Col. Thomas doesn’t inspire the slightest bit of feeling that Votel was either mis-taken, or was deliberately misquoted. CentCom clearly takes the American People for a gaggle of sheep.

  • irebukeu says:

    Looks like one group of dishonest people want you to disbelieve another group of dishonest people.

    This is a total outrage!! If this happened under the Obama administration it would be represented as Obama throwing America under the Bus.
    No one would even wait for the general to deny or justify.
    This reminds me of the statements coming out of the American Embassy in Egypt on the afternoon of Sept 11, 2012. Spinning one way and then the other hoping to come up with the right nonsense filled statements that might save the lives of everyone inside.
    Now these words, if spoken at all were most likely said to placate the Pakistanis and allow some sort of negotiations to go forward. Not exactly a life and death situation situation but a diplomatic one. Instead of moving the ball forward, the Pakistanis are spiking the ball, trying to drive a wedge. Interesting. It might serve us well that in dealing with the corrupt and always lying Pakistanis, we have a government that understands all too well what corruption and lying are. There may be no American government better suited to deal with the dishonest Pakis Than the regime we have been saddled with at this time. Lucky us.

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