Ward ad: John McCain visited Pakistan to sell weapons to the 'folks who harbored Osama bin Laden'

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jul 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-14 23:31:33-04

Sen. John McCain's primary challenger accused him of selling military weapons to allies of Osama bin Laden, and on the Fourth of July of all weekends.

The campaign of former state Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, sent out a July 3 news release attacking McCain for his alleged plans.

It included this graphic:


We put this claim through a truth-check. 

McCain did go to Pakistan that holiday weekend, as well as Afghanistan for his annual visit to American troops on Independence Day.

But is Ward right that he carved out time to sell F-16 fighter jets, which are used for aerial attacks, and sophisticated weaponry to "the folks who harbored Osama bin Laden" in Pakistan?

A meeting in Pakistan

Ward spokesman Stephen Sebastian provided us with news reports about McCain’s meeting with Pakistani officials, which included Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, and Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif.

The meeting was billed as an effort to strengthen relations between the two countries and defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. 

At the meeting, McCain emphasized that Pakistan needs to do more to take on terrorist groups, such as the Haqqani Network, an insurgency group with ties to al-Qaeda and Pakistan, that threaten America, according to his spokeswoman. She also said McCain’s visit was within his oversight as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

So the point of the delegation's visit was not to make a deal on aircrafts — especially since Congress had balked at a military proposal for the United States to finance eight fighter jets for Pakistan.

The stumbling block: Pakistan's terrorism ties.

"Sen. McCain conveyed to Pakistani leaders that U.S. financing for those (F-16) aircrafts will not be supported by Congress unless and until Pakistan demonstrates more robust efforts against terrorists that threaten America," McCain campaign spokeswoman Lorna Romero said.


The United States has sold F-16s to Pakistan for decades. But after the U.S. military approved the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan in February, congressional leaders said they would block U.S. financing. 

"Given congressional opposition to financing the F-16 sale with Foreign Military Financing (FMF), we asked the Pakistanis to fund the sale entirely," said State Department spokesman Josh Paul. "Pakistan did not accept this offer, and the terms of the sale have expired."

Romero reiterated that McCain can only see a scenario where the United States finances F-16s is if Pakistan bolsters its anti-terrorism efforts.

Ward’s campaign cited Pakistan news website Business Recorder, which quotes Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria as saying McCain’s visit was related to "defense cooperation."

The Ward campaign also referenced a June 24 meeting between McCain and former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Los Angeles. McCain’s campaign confirmed this meeting, saying it was part of his regular meetings with world leaders. A Pakistani government account of the meeting recounts Zardari making the case for American F-16s and drones to fight terrorists.

Sebastian also noted that most of the senator’s itinerary was not available in advance because of security concerns. McCain’s daily schedule is not released publicly.

"While F-16s and weapon sales were not the only, or even primary, purpose of the CoDel (congressional delegation) trip, it certainly seems to have been a prominent part of the agenda," he said.

That's a much softer take than the message of the campaign ad.

Pakistan on terror

Now for the Ward attack's characterization of Pakistan as the "folks who harbored Osama bin Laden."

Yes, bin Laden was found and killed at a compound in Pakistan in 2011, but the accusation that McCain was engineering a sale to people who "harbored" bin Laden, is unproven. Ward’s campaign referenced a October 2015 Washington Post story that quotes Pakistan’s former defense minister as saying it was "probable" that the Pakistani military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

But Johns Hopkins University international relations professor Daniel Markey said the ad's claim jumps too far.

"We don't yet have evidence that top Pakistani military or civilian leaders knew of bin Laden's whereabouts or ‘harbored’ him, as it says in the graphic," he said.

Our ruling 

While McCain has discussed F-16 fighter jets with Pakistani officials, the meeting over the holiday weekend was part of a larger effort to fight terrorism.

Further, the ad oversimplifies Pakistan's complicated relationship with the United States. There is plenty of legitimate concern about the country's approach to terrorist groups, but there is no definitive proof that Pakistan (particularly the ones who met with McCain) harbored bin Laden.

We rate Ward’s claim False.


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