US looking to shift funds for Pakistani F-16s

July 25th, 2008 - 5:20 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of F-16
Washington, July 25 (DPA) The US wants to shift about $226 million in aide for Pakistani counterterrorism effort to upgrade the country’s fleet of F-16s. The money was originally allocated for counterterrorism activities in the lawless tribal regions of the country near the Afghan border, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have sought refuge.

But Pakistan has undergone economic turmoil and rising fuel prices and requested assistance for its US-built F-16s, State Department acting deputy spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Thursday.

“The (Pakistani) government came to us, asked us if we could assist them. And we decided that this would be a good option for them,” Gallegos said.

But some members of Congress have protested the move, citing US frustrations about Pakistan’s lagging response in combating the Taliban and raising questions about how sophisticated upgrades to the fighter planes would help the war on terrorism.

“Congress provided these funds specifically for counterterrorism and law enforcement activities,” said representative Nita Lowey, a Democrat who chairs the House budget committee’s subpanel on foreign operations.

“It is incumbent on the State Department and Pakistan to demonstrate clearly how these F-16s would be used to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in order to get Congressional support,” she said.

Gallegos said the advanced avionics and communication upgrades will improve coordination with ground units hunting the Taliban and Al Qaeda and facilitate precision airstrikes.

The New York Times reported the development Thursday, ahead of President George W. Bush’s meeting Monday with Pakistan’s recently elected prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani.

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