Pakistan has expelled a team of British military trainers sent to help with the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as the fallout from the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden continues to rock relations between Islamabad and its Western allies.
The British Ministry of Defence confirmed that at least 18 military advisers, deployed as part of a ￡15 million (US$23.9 million) program to train the paramilitary Paistani Frontier Corps, have been withdrawn from Pakistan. Most are already back in the UK.
Their removal is seen as an indirect casualty of worsening relations between Pakistan and the US over the US Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad on May 2, which was conducted without Pakistani consent.
Although British relations with Pakistan are warmer, the embattled army, stung by a barrage of public criticism, is keen to -demonstrate its independence from all Western allies.
Since bin Laden’s death, Pakistan has sent home at least 120 US military trainers, most of whom were engaged in training the Frontier Corps. The British team, a mix of seasoned officers and non--comissioned officers, had been stationed at a British-funded Frontier Corps base near the capital of Balochistan, Quetta.
The training scheme began in August last year and was scheduled to run until at least summer 2013. The ministry hopes to redeploy the team once the tensions abate.
In an e-mail statement, a spokesperson said the trainers had been withdrawn “on a temporary basis” at the request of the Pakistani government in response to “security concerns.”
“The training teams will continue their own training and will be ready to redeploy at the first possible opportunity,” she told the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The 60,000-strong Frontier Corps, which is deployed along the length of the 2,575km border with Afghanistan, has long been in the frontline of Pakistani efforts to combat Taliban militancy and flush al-Qaeda from its tribal havens.
However, its troops are considered under-trained and ill-equipped, and Pakistan’s Western allies have in recent years prioritized a multimillion US dollar effort to bolster their skills and equipment.
That program has now virtually collapsed as US-Pakistani relations fall to their lowest point in a decade. The trouble began in January after a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, shot dead two men in Lahore, prompting the withdrawal of a quarter of the US training force.
The reductions accelerated following the bin Laden raid, as the military sought to signal its displeasure with its Western allies — in particular the CIA — and to boost its faltering public support.
After a meeting on June 9 to discuss the crisis, the military leadership issued a statement in which it disputed US claims of US$15 billion in aid during the past decade and suggested that future US military assistance should be diverted to civilian economic programs.
CIA drone strikes were “not acceptable under any circumstances,” the military said.
The US says it wants to rebuild the relationship, deemed “too important to fail,” but tensions have erupted at ground level.
Last week the Pakistani media reported that US trainers had clashed with base guards when prevented from retrieving personal effects after being ordered to leave. The US embassy in Islamabad denied the incident.