ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The U.S. began handing over $4.1 million worth of security equipment to Pakistan's overwhelmed Northwest Frontier Province police today, an indication of just how much assistance the police and military need to battle militants near its violent border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials admit they need help to battle a Taliban that has never been stronger and has never encroached further into Pakistan's settled areas, next door to the lawless tribal areas. The Taliban and its allies, official admit, are simply too well funded and too strong to be defeated by Pakistani police and paramilitary forces that have never been trained for counterinsurgency.
In the latest sign of how unstable the province has become, the NWFP government is shelving nearly all of its development projects, a government official told ABC News, and it will soon be transferring $3 billion from its development budget to its security budget.
Today the U.S. handed over 3,000 bulletproof jackets, 3,000 helmets, 67 small trucks, and almost 100 motorcycles, according to people knowledgeable of the gift.
But the police need much more than that if they are going to confront the combination of local militants, local criminals, and Pakistani Taliban from North and South Waziristan who have begun to launch attacks on the edges of the settled areas, most notably in Peshawar. Kidnappings for ransom in Peshawar increased by 90 percent last year, according to Malik Naveed, the Northwest Frontier Province chief of police -- and that does not include an undoubtedly larger number of unreported kidnappings.
He said he needs more helicopters, armored personnel carriers, more wireless equipment, and many more bulletproof jackets and helmets.
"Just name it and we need it," he told ABC News.
The money for the police equipment, paid for by the State Department, is an element in larger efforts geared toward helping the Frontier Corps paramilitary and police, officials say. In the last few months those efforts have included training by U.S. military officials.
"The handover of the equipment is part of the United States Government's ongoing Border Security Project with the Government of Pakistan," the U.S. embassy said in a statement today.
U.S. Owes Pakistani Army More Equipment, Official Says
The police aren't the only ones short on supplies.
The U.S. military is asking the Pakistani military to maintain its pressure on the Taliban in northwest Pakistan as the U.S. sends some 10,000 additional troops to eastern eastern Afghanistan, just across the border. As part of that fight, the U.S. has owed the Pakistani army more equipment for years, according to Pakistani military officials.
The U.S. promised 20 attack helicopters in 2004 but it has only delivered 12, a senior Pakistani military official tells ABC News.
"Air mobility plays the most crucial part in fighting the terrorists," the official says. "There have been a lot of delays, and one would like for this to be done on a war footing, because there is a war that is on. Every day counts, every week counts. There are inordinate delays."
The military, the official said, also needs more:
Night vision capacities for its 8 Cobras
Precision laser targeting for its American-made F-16s
Night vision goggles for troops (the Americans have provided some, the official says, but "it's not even in the hundreds")
Eavesdropping equipment and communications devices that will enable the military to locate militants' locations
More bulletproof jackets for its underfunded and undertrained Frontier Corps, which is doing the majority of the fighting along the border
Jamming equipment to protect vehicles from IEDs
"The other side is offering to the foot soldiers much more than what a constable is getting on our side," the official says. The Taliban, he adds, is funded mostly by crime and drug money coming from Afghanistan.
"It reflects a lack of trust [between the Pakistan and U.S. militaries]," he says. "What else can Pakistan army can prove or exhibit when there are lives are at stake and there is great loss?"
U.S. Hesitant to Give Sensitive Equipment
The U.S. has been hesitant to hand over some its more sensitive equipment to the Pakistani military. U.S. officials still believe elements of the military's powerful spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, or ISI, continue to help run guns and train militants groups, including the one that attacked Mumbai in November.
Members of the military, says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent into Chaos," "want to preserve some of these jihadi groups. They don't want to see these people being shut down completely. They've invested in them for many, many years because these jihadi groups have been on the front line in Kashmir in India on behalf of the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies. So there is a great reluctance to give up on these guys."
But everyone admits that in order to pacify the border, make Pakistan safer and save Afghanistan from sliding even farther into chaos than it is, the two countries need to have mutual cooperation and mutual trust. And despite any American misgivings, the fact is that the Pakistanis need all the help they can get -- one bulletproof jacket at a time.