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Pakistan 'wants unarmed drones'

US drone
Drones can be remotely controlled from thousands of miles away

The United States may provide Pakistan with a dozen unarmed drone aircraft to help strengthen its fight against the Taliban, US defence officials say.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a Pakistani television channel that the plan was being considered.

The use of armed drones by US forces in strikes against militants in Pakistan has led to huge anti-American feeling.

On Thursday, Pakistan's president said people would be less critical if drones were used by Pakistani troops.

Hundreds of people - many of them militants, but many more civilians - have died in attacks by armed drones in tribal areas of Pakistan where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants are believed to operate.

'Useful'

"There are some tactical UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that we are considering, yes," Mr Gates said in an interview with a Pakistani television channel.

"I'm not going to discuss operations but I will say this: these unmanned aerial vehicles have been extremely useful to us, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan," the defence secretary told Express TV.

The Associated Press news agency quoted unnamed US officials as saying that Mr Gates was referring to a proposed deal for 12 Shadow aircraft - unarmed drones.

The Shadow drones are smaller than the armed Predator and Reaper aircraft.

They come equipped with sensors and cameras feeding video images back to operators on the ground and are used for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering.

Gates 'impressed'

Earlier on Thursday Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari took up the issue of drone attacks with Mr Gates, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported on Friday.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in New Delhi, India, on 20 January 2010
There are some tactical unmanned aerial vehicles that we are considering, yes
Robert Gates
US Defence Secretary

The president said that it undermined the national consensus against the war on militancy and called for creating a mechanism whereby the drones were used by Pakistan's security forces rather than by foreign troops, Dawn quoted a presidential spokesman as saying.

The president said that when Pakistan's security forces employed high-tech in the war it had no negative fallout.

"If our own security forces possess drones it will be a more helpful high-tech weapon of war than when it is used by foreign forces," Mr Zardari said.

The US defence secretary - who is on a two-day visit to Pakistan - met President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday.

He is due to address a gathering of Pakistan's military on Friday.

Mr Gates told reporters that he was deeply impressed with Pakistan's military offensive against militants within its borders.

He said he would leave it to Pakistan's leadership to decide whether or when to expand the fight.

On Thursday, Pakistan's army spokesman Athar Abbas told the BBC the "overstretched" military had no plans for any fresh anti-militant operations over the next 12 months.

A BBC correspondent in Islamabad said the comments were a clear snub to Washington, which would like Pakistan to expand an offensive against militants launching cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.



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