Pakistani army cancels US trip after 'unwarranted' security checks at Washington airport
Pakistan's military canceled a trip by officers to an annual meeting at U.S. Central Command after they were taken off a plane and subjected to "unwarranted security checks" at Dulles International Airport in Washington, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The incident could complicate already sensitive military relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, which are in an uneasy alliance in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants. And it could fall to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to try to smooth over the issue when he meets Thursday with Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and others.
Mullen is on a trip on the region and plans a daylong visit to Pakistan, where he hopes to get an update on Pakistan-U.S. cooperation in bringing relief to victims of the country's devastating floods.
The nine-member Pakistani delegation, headed by a two-star Navy rear admiral, was already aboard United Airlines Flight 727 when one of them reportedly made a comment to the flight attendant — saying he hoped the flight was his last, in reference to their long day's travel from Islamabad.
The comment prompted concern and security officials were notified. The delegation was taken off of the plane and missed the flight.
After the matter was straightened out and a decision was made that the passengers could continue their trip, the airline offered to rebook their flight for the next day, said United spokesman Mike Trevino in Chicago.
Increased checks at U.S. airports in response to the threat from Islamist militants after the Sept. 11 attacks are a sensitive issue for many Pakistanis, who frequently complain they are being unfairly singled out.
A group of Pakistani lawmakers on a State Department-sponsored visit to the United States in March returned home early after complaining of excessive security checks and were hailed as heroes by sections of the media on their return.
The United States has given the Pakistani army billions of dollars over the last 10 years to help it better fight militancy, but the country is very unpopular among many ordinary Pakistanis.
The delegation was the Pakistani contingent of this year's U.S.-Pakistan Military Consultative Committee meeting, an annual session where the two nation's outline military-to-military programs for the following year, said Marine Maj. David Nevers, a Centcom spokesman in Tampa.
The U.S. contingent met by itself for an abbreviated session, and officials are trying to reschedule the meeting with Pakistanis, he said.