Pakistan wants combat choppers from US to take on Al Qaeda

Pakistan is asking the US for attack helicopters and other heavy weaponry worth $2.5 billion to take the fight against terror into the mountains of the country’s North West Frontier Province, the lair of the senior Al Qaeda leadership, a media report said Wednesday.

‘I have been ambassador here for two years, and all I have to show for it is eight second hand Mi-17 transport helicopters for a war that requires helicopters to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban,’ Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani told The Washington Times.

‘Military operations would have been quicker and much easier to plan and execute if we had the equipment. We have had tremendous attrition and a lot of loss of lives because of not having the right equipment.’

Pakistan has a $2.5 billion wish list which includes new helicopter gunships, AH-1W and the Apache-64-D, armed helicopters such as the AH-6 and MD-530 Little Bird, and utility and cargo helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk, the CH-47 D Chinook and the UH-1Y Huey.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the US government is aware of its ally’s military wish list.

‘The Pakistani military’s interest in additional lift is well-known, and we have tried to help meet their needs by providing several Mi-17s. We will continue to try to help them acquire the helicopters and other equipment they require to defeat the insurgents and terrorists in their midst,’ Morrell said.

Pakistan’s military last year reversed its policy of signing ceasefire agreements with local tribal governors as it did in 2007 and 2008 in the regions thought to be hiding places for senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

The new ’silent surge’, however, also has cost the lives of thousands of Pakistani soldiers, including generals. The ambassador said Pakistan has lost more than 600 officers affiliated with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its powerful and influential military intelligence arm.

Pakistani military officials have said their forces have a total of just 26 combat and transport helicopters for a counterinsurgency war in a mountainous region where helicopters provide a critical advantage

Pakistani wish list also includes M1A1 tanks and M113A3 armoured personnel carriers, as well as air-defence missiles, such as the Stinger, the Javelin and the Hawk.

The list also includes a request for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), among the newest and deadliest high-tech arms.

Retired Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, said the helicopters Pakistan wants would be useful to counter-insurgency operations.

‘My sense is that all of those helicopters are useful in counter-insurgency operations, given the rugged terrain of western Pakistan. It is less clear that is the case with M1 tanks and air-defence missiles.’

The US in the past has quietly attempted to dial back tensions between Pakistan and India, two US allies that have fought four wars in the past 60 years. A sale of battle tanks to Pakistan likely would set off alarms in India.

‘Anything on that list would upset the Indians,’ said Teresita C. Schaffer, director of the South Asia programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

‘That by itself is not really a criterion, though, for these arms sales. Of that list of things, the one that would be most incendiary for the Indians would be the UAVs.’

Schaffer said that UAVs ‘are relevant to the terrorism agenda, but the Indians would see that as a way to do deniable attacks against India.’


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