September 9, 2009, Washington -- The Pentagon has proposed transferring U.S. military equipment from Iraq to Pakistani security forces to help Islamabad step up its offensive against the Taliban, according to officials and government documents.
The Pentagon request for the authority to "transfer articles no longer needed in Iraq" to the army of Pakistan received a cool reception in the U.S. Congress, where some questioned what safeguards would ensure the arms would not end up being diverted to Pakistan's border with India, a nuclear-armed power like Pakistan.
The inclusion of Pakistan in the request, along with Iraq and Afghanistan, underscored the high priority the Pentagon places on freeing up equipment the Pakistani army says it needs to mount ground operations in South Waziristan and other Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan.
But the push-back from Capitol Hill also put a spotlight on deep congressional skepticism about aiding Pakistani security services which some still see as playing both sides in Washington's war with the Taliban.
In addition to the possibility of transfers from Iraq, the Pentagon is considering expanding programs under which Washington procures equipment for Pakistani forces through third governments, or leases them U.S. equipment at nominal rates, sources briefed on the discussions said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The Pentagon declined to comment on Pakistan's inclusion in the proposal, first raised with key congressional committees in June.
Under the proposal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates would have the authority to "transfer both excess and non-excess defense stocks, along with defense services in connection with the transfers," to the three governments. He already has some authority to transfer equipment deemed as "excess."
The Pentagon did not say in its request to Congress what equipment would become eligible for transfer as U.S. forces gradually leave Iraq. U.S. combat troops pulled out of Iraqi cities and towns in June, and all U.S. forces are due to move out by the end of 2011.
Pentagon officials said a review was under way to determine what equipment could be left behind in Iraq and transferred to allies. "The secretary believes we've got to be more flexible, more responsive, more rapid in our dealings with friends and allies around the world, particularly militaries we're trying to develop quickly," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
Coaxing Pakistan Act
Gates has praised Pakistan's "success" in recent operations against militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, and the Pentagon has made the procurement of more military equipment a priority, though officials says the effort is going slowly because some of the items are no longer in production.
While favored by Pakistan's military and political leaders, expanding U.S. military assistance is a highly contentious issue in the country due to widespread anti-U.S. sentiment.
One of Washington's concerns is that Pakistan will put off indefinitely a post-Swat push into South Waziristan, the main base for Pakistani Taliban fighters loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a CIA missile strike last month.
With U.S. troop strength growing in Afghanistan, the United States wants Pakistan to take hold of Waziristan and other Islamist militant enclaves on its side of the border and prevent Taliban fighters from crossing into Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army has been battling militants in parts of the northwest, but it has made clear to Washington that a major Waziristan offensive would likely have to wait months, possibly until spring, because of shortages of Cobra attack helicopters, protective gear, precision weapons and other equipment.
"We're working as quickly as we can," a defense official said when asked when the military equipment sought by Pakistan would arrive. But he said its army can still "keep the battle rhythm up ... We believe they have the ability to do that."
U.S. officials acknowledge that a major offensive in Waziristan would require a far larger commitment from Islamabad than what it made in Swat.
According to U.S. defense officials, Pakistan has moved about one-third of its forces from the border with India toward Swat and other western provinces threatened by the Taliban. The shift in personnel, officials said, would have to increase sharply to accommodate a ground operation in Waziristan.
Daniel Markey, an expert on the region with the Council of Foreign Relations, said a major offensive in Waziristan was unlikely because the Pakistani army would have to be willing to "attack, stay, and take serious casualties".
He said Pakistan was unlikely to change its current strategy of attacking militants largely from the air -- "more divide and conquer than clear, hold, build."
September 8, 2009 -- Troops deployed to Afghanistan will have their eye on the enemy thanks to a suite of new equipment that will increase their ability to detect and target their foes, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support announced today.
The new Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) package, part of the Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) programme, has been ordered from Thales UK under a £150m contract.
FIST will provide improved protection, day and night surveillance and target acquisition, and assistance with navigation, command and control and battle preparation.
The new thermal sights will allow soldiers to conduct surveillance and engage targets in all weather and light levels, including zero light where normal night sights would be rendered ineffective.
Thermal imaging has the added benefits of improving the ability to see through optical camouflage; it will also enhance the soldiers' ability to conduct low level change recognition of tell tale thermal signatures of concealed weapons and improvised explosive devices.
The full FIST package will consist of nearly eleven thousand suites of equipment, comprising the following elements:
• Thermal Sights
• Close Quarter Battle Sights
• Commanders' Target Locating Systems
• Lightweight Day Sights
• Underslung Grenade Launcher Sights
• Underslung Grenade Launcher Fire Control Systems
• Ruggedised Digital Cameras
• Lightweight Infantry Periscopes.
FIST is designed to enable soldiers to dominate the battlefield with enhanced optics and improved target location accuracy, and will result in a significant increase in soldier lethality.
Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, said:
"The Surveillance and Target Acquisition package forms the first part of the FIST programme. The new kit that we have ordered will significantly increase the combat effectiveness of the British infantryman.
"The MOD is committed to equipping our front line troops with the best equipment we can by using the latest technological advances. I am delighted to announce this new contract which supports the British Defence Industrial base at the Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition."
Colonel Bill Pointing, team leader of Dismounted Soldier Solutions at Defence Equipment and Support, added:
"This is a key step in giving the dismounted soldier the equipment that he needs, both for current operations and to support training before deployment. The team from Defence Equipment and Support is proud of its achievement in delivering this package and looks forward to delivering the equipment that will further improve our dismounted close combat capability."
The STA package that makes up the first increment of the FIST programme will enhance the ability of the troops on the ground to move, find, fix and strike the enemy by providing an enhanced 24-hour STA capability.
Deliveries of the new kit will begin at the end of 2010 and the first equipment will be given to troops for training, prior to being deployed to Afghanistan, in early 2011.
September 6, 2009, Washington -- The United States accounted for more than two-thirds of foreign weapons sales in 2008, a year in which global sales were at a three-year low, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
Citing a congressional study released on Friday, the Times said the United States was involved in 68.4 percent of the global sales of arms.
U.S. weapons sales jumped nearly 50 percent in 2008 despite the global economic recession to $37.8 billion from $25.4 billion the year before.
The jump defied worldwide trends as global arms sales fell 7.6 percent to $55.2 billion in 2008, the report said. Global weapons agreements were at their lowest level since 2005.
Italy, the second ranked country, amassed only $3.7 billion in arms sales, while Russia ranked third with sales falling to $3.5 billion in 2008, down from $10.8 billion in 2007.
The report attributed the increase in U.S. sales to "major new orders from clients in the Near East and in Asia" as well as to continued contracts for equipment and support services with globally based U.S. clients, the Times said.
The United States also led in arms sales to the developing world, signing 70.1 percent of these weapons agreements at a value of $29.6 billion in 2008, the report said.
Such deals with the developing world included a $6.5 billion air defense system for the United Arab Emirates, a $2.1 billion jet fighter for Morocco and a $2 billion attack helicopter for Taiwan.
India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea and Brazil also reached weapons deals with the United States, the Times said.
The report revealed the United Arab Emirates was the top buyer of arms in the developing world with $9.7 billion in arms purchases in 2008.
Saudi Arabia ranked second with $8.7 billion in weapons agreements, and Morocco was third with $5.4 billion in deals.