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Terrorism & Security

US may equip Pakistan with drone aircraft, Gates says

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told leaders on his visit to Islamabad that all of South Asia faces instability if Al Qaeda goes unchecked in Pakistan.

By Ben HancockCorrespondent / January 21, 2010

Pakistan's Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, right, meets US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Thursday.

Pakistan Press Information Department/AP

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US Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed Thursday in Islamabad with the goal of pressing Pakistan to stamp out Al Qaeda and other terrorist factions that he earlier warned could destabilize South Asia.

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In his first visit to the country since the inauguration of the Obama White House, Mr. Gates said the US is considering supplying Pakistan with unarmed drone aircraft. While Pakistan has publicly called America's use of drones a violation of sovereignty, Islamabad has requested the technology for itself, Reuters reported.

"We are in partnership with the Pakistani military and we are working to give them their own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles, both aircraft and drones," Gates said.

Until now, the US has not been willing to share the technology, The Hindustan Times reports.

The Pakistan government, which has opposed US drone attacks in its tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, had been pressing the American administration to provide it unmanned aerial vehicle technology so that its armed forces could carry out attacks on Taliban fighters. Till now, the US had refused to provide drones or UAV technology to Pakistan, which has a small number of indigenously developed spy planes.

Gates arrived after a meeting in India with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders. He told reporters there that focusing antiterror efforts on a single group would be a grave error, reports The New York Times.

“It’s dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say, ‘If we could beat that group that would solve the problem,’ because they are in effect a syndicate of terrorist operators,” Gates said. In short, he said, “the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and a new reputation for all.”

The secretary also warned that a Pakistani failure to keep domestic terror cells in check could escalate into an international incident, referring to the 2008 rampage in Mumbai, which was blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. “I think it is not unreasonable to assume Indian patience would be limited were there to be further attacks,” Gates said.

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