Reviewing if Pak violated agreement on helicopters: US

Washington: The US is reviewing if Pakistan violated its legal obligations while sending to Sudan three helicopters given to it by Washington for use in the war against terrorism, a Pentagon spokesman has said.

"We are reviewing the available facts to determine whether the deployment of the helicopters to Sudan was an appropriate use of the helicopters and in keeping with Pakistan's legal obligations," Pentagon spokesman Col Dave Lapan told a news agency yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal in a news story yesterday had said that US paid millions to refurbish four Mi-17 helicopters to help Pakistan's army transport troops into battle against Taliban and other militants in areas bordering Afghanistan.

But, Pakistani ended up diverting three of those aircraft to peacekeeping duties in Sudan operations for which Islamabad receives compensation from the United Nations.

The issue was first raised by Congressman Howard Berman, Ranking Member House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in a letter to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, early this month.

"I commend Pakistan's active participation in UN peacekeeping missions, but Pakistan's apparent use of these helicopters in Sudan is a blatant violation of the agreement we concluded with Islamabad," Berman said in a letter to Hillary dated May 5.

"The helicopters were intended to improve Pakistan's ability to conduct counterinsurgency operations and were provided on grounds that Pakistan was desperate for airlift capability to fight terrorists," he said.

He said that the diversion of any aircraft regardless of origin will be a stark example of Pakistan's insufficient political will to tackle the terrorist problem.

"We understand the Pakistan Army dispatched three Mi-17s to Sudan to participate in UN peacekeeping operations and that these helicopters had been overhauled using US security cooperation funds from the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund appropriation," Lapan said.

"We do not know precisely why the Mi-17s were sent to Sudan; however, we do note that Pakistan's participation in the UN operation has been an ongoing and continuous operation, and that this involves a routine rotation of the Pakistan Mi-17 fleet that began before the helicopters were overhauled," he said.

"We further understand that these helicopters were not purchased with US funds, however, and that they were used in counterinsurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) prior to rotating to Sudan," Lapan said.

These helicopters were given to Pakistan as its armed forces are in critical need of transportation of its soldiers in the tribal areas in the war against terrorism, the former National Security Advisor Gen (rtd) James Jones told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing yesterday.

"The critical need of the Pakistani military is mobility. It's not terribly sophisticated, but its helicopters and transportation, rapidly and otherwise.

They need help in rebuilding their local enforcement capabilities, law enforcement capabilities. I used the example of the Swat Valley, where two divisions are permanently tied down there because there's no way to transition to anything; there's just no infrastructure," Jones said in response to a question at a hearing on Pakistan convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"If you were to have a discussion with the Pakistani military, they would pivot into the direction of saying, look, you say we're strategically important, and this is the key to kind of the region and what you want to do in Afghanistan, but in terms of the quantity of military aid that we've received -- helicopters and the instruments that they feel that they're in short supply that we haven't done much," Jones said.