‘Pakistan capable of shooting down US drones’

November 25th, 2008 - 10:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Nov 25 (DPA) The chief of Pakistan’s Air Force Tuesday said his forces were fully capable of shooting down the pilotless US aircraft that have carried out more than 20 strikes on militant hideouts in the country’s tribal region over the last two months.”As far as the capacity of the air force is concerned, it is ready for any type of air defence whether it is drone” or any other sort of aerial combat system, Air Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmad told reporters in southern port city of Karachi.

But he said it was up to the nation and the government whether the drone attacks were to be stopped through diplomatic or military engagement.

“First our nation, you people, our government, our parliament has to debate when we have to engage them (drones), whether we have to start a war with them (the US) or not,” Ahmad said.

US spy planes have successfully eliminated several Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s tribal region, a haven for Islamic militants launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

A fugitive British militant with suspected links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network was among the five people killed over the weekend in a US airstrike in tribal district of North Waziristan.

Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, was once suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners, and had been on the run after escaping Pakistani custody late last year.

But these airstrikes have also caused dozens of civilian casualties, fuelling anger in Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism.

Islamabad says only its forces have the right to take action against militants on its soil, insisting the US air raids violate its sovereignty and undermine its efforts against terrorism.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry last week summoned US Ambassador Anne Patterson to lodge a formal protest over the first US drone attack outside the tribal region, in the Bannu district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Pakistani air force Friday carried out a training exercise in which drones were shot down by the indigenously built man-portable surface-to-air missile Anza II, the anti-aircraft Oerlikan and an unnamed 57-mm radar-controlled gun.

Pakistan also has dozens of pilotless aircraft, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). According to a recent report in the weekly Defence News, the Pakistani Air Force has two UAV squadrons and is looking to build up to six.

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