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US mulling drones for Pakistan despite tensions

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 22, 2011
The United States is considering providing unmanned drones to Pakistan for aerial surveillance despite tensions between the two countries over measures to combat terrorist activity, a US official said Friday.

The plan being studied would provide several dozen of the small Raven aircraft -- with a wingspan of just 1.4 meters (4.5 feet) -- equipped with cameras but without the capability of firing missiles, unlike the Predator or Reaper aircraft used by US forces.

The plans for the drones "are under consideration," a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Captain Darryn James, a Pentagon spokesman, said no final decision has been made.

"We are in discussions with our Pakistani partners about their requirements to continue the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign, but it would be premature for us to discuss specific equipment before any decisions have been made and before a contract is in place," James said.

The discussions on drones comes amid heightened tensions between Islamabad and Washington after a fatal shooting by a CIA contractor in January inflamed a row between the US and Pakistan over intelligence sharing and raised tensions over the controversial US drone war.

Pakistan is a key US ally in the war in Afghanistan, and receives billions of dollars in military and civilian aid from the global superpower.

But covert missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's lawless border regions, believed to operate with the tacit consent of Islamabad, stoke rampant anti-American sentiment throughout the South Asian nation.

Pakistan has publicly insisted US drone attacks stop and that the United States slashes the number of CIA agents on its soil, while US officials say operations will continue in order to prevent more attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked militants on the United States.

Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, declined to discuss details of talks on drones but said he saw progress in the longtime sticking point in relations.

"Pakistan has always maintained that civilian casualties resulting from the activities of Predator drones have not been very conducive and feed a narrative that does not help our partnership," he said.

"We've been negotiating and working on finding ways whereby the Pakistani military's own capabilities will be enhanced," he said.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff was in Islamabad this week for talks with Pakistan's top general expected to address concerns over official links with militants in the region.

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