ISLAMABAD – The United States plans to provide Pakistan with a dozen unarmed drone aircraft that will help bolster its military as it takes on Taliban militants, US defence officials said.
US army soldiers prepare to launch an RQ-7B Shadow drone over the province of Diyala, Iraq
Details of the drones emerged late Thursday during a visit to Pakistan by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was asked in an interview with Pakistani television if Washington would supply Islamabad with the unmanned aircraft.
“There are some tactical UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that we are considering, yes,” Gates said.
Defence officials in his delegation afterward confirmed funds had been set aside to secure 12 Shadow aerial drones for Pakistan.
The Shadow drones, smaller than the armed Predator and Reaper aircraft, are about 11 feet (three metres) long and have a wing-span of 14-feet, with sensors and cameras feeding video images back to operators on the ground.
The Pakistani military already had some less sophisticated drones for surveillance but would need to heavily invest in training specialists to be able to take advantage of the new hardware, said US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The US employs armed drones for missile strikes against Al-Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan, fuelling anti-American sentiment and drawing public condemnation from the government in Islamabad.
Pakistani officials have previously called for Washington to provide its military with armed drones.