U.S. to Offer Smart-Bomb Kits, Drones to Pakistan

By  Yochi Dewazen The Wall Street Journal

Washington DC—The Pentagon will transfer sophisticated laser-guided-bomb kits to Pakistan, escalating the Obama administration’s recent push to better arm Islamabad for its military campaign against the country’s Islamic militants. U.S. military officials said Pakistan will soon receive equipment capable of converting 1,000 traditional munitions into “smart bombs” that can more precisely strike targets on the ground. American officials hope the reconfigured bombs will help Pakistan minimize civilian casualties as it battles insurgents in the country’s tribal regions.

Pakistan will also soon take possession of a dozen American-made surveillance drones and 18 late-model F-16 fighter jets, sharply expanding the Pakistani military’s ability to track and strike targets in remote, insurgent-controlled parts of the country. The laser-guided-bomb kits could spark some unease in India, where officials have been warily watching the expanded U.S. military aid to Pakistan and wondering if the weapons would one day be turned against them. India lobbied against recent U.S. legislation giving Pakistan billions of dollars in new nonmilitary aid, though the measure passed anyway.

The Indian reaction to the planned American F-16 sale to Islamabad was far more muted, in part because India’s air force is far larger than Pakistan’s and employs more-advanced planes. Providing advanced munitions to Pakistan would once have aroused fierce opposition within the U.S. Congress, where powerful lawmakers from both parties have questioned Islamabad’s willingness to take tough measures against the country’s militants. Washington has also long charged that elements in Pakistan’s intelligence service maintain close ties to the Afghan Taliban, an accusation Islamabad denies. But the new weapons transfers are unlikely to spark much controversy in Washington, a reflection of how much the concern about Pakistan has ebbed in recent months as Islamabad deepens its military and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. In mid-February, Pakistani and American intelligence operatives jointly captured Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top military commander of the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad has also tacitly allowed the U.S. to sharply expand its campaign of drone missile strikes against insurgent targets inside Pakistani territory.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell last week praised Pakistan for mounting a serious campaign against the militants operating along the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. U.S. officials say they believe the leadership of both al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban are hiding in Pakistan, with several top officials allegedly operating out of the Pakistani city of Quetta. “The commitment that the Pakistani government, the military, its intelligence forces have demonstrated over the past several months to combating this threat within their midst is commendable,” Mr. Morrell said. “We are here to help them in any which way they are comfortable.” The clearest example of that assistance is the stepped-up U.S. military aid to Pakistan. A new American counterinsurgency assistance fund for Pakistan is slated to increase to $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2011 from $700 million in fiscal year 2010, allowing Islamabad to acquire more U.S.-made helicopters, night-vision goggles and other military equipment.

Pakistan, which is smaller and poorer than neighboring India, uses American grants to fund most of its arms purchases. The smart bombs should help Pakistan expand its military offensive in the insurgent stronghold of South Waziristan. The laser-guided munitions can be dropped from Pakistan’s current fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, allowing Islamabad to improve the accuracy of its bombing runs while it waits to take possession of new F-16s later this year. “This is sort of a short-term discussion, but it’s one that’s important to them because they’re involved in current operations right now,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters Tuesday. “They’ve been trying to improve their capabilities in the short term while they wait for these aircraft.”

Lt. Col. Jeffry Glenn, an Air Force spokesman, said Pakistan will receive 700 kits capable of converting 500-pound traditional bombs into laser-guided munitions, as well as 300 kits that can be used with larger 2,000-pound bombs. The kits, which are made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., contain computerized guidance systems for the fronts of the bombs and fins that are designed to be attached to the backs of the munitions for better lift and stability. Once the kits have been properly configured, pilots or ground-based troops can use laser beams to guide the smart bombs to their targets.

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