By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 11, 2009 - The United States delivered four Mi-17 cargo helicopters to the Pakistani army yesterday to support Pakistan's counterinsurgency as well as humanitarian efforts, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad announced. The helicopters, delivered at the request of the Pakistani government, will increase capabilities in current operations against militant extremists, officials said. They'll also support efforts to care for thousands of Pakistanis displaced from their homes by the fighting.
The United States is in the process of identifying additional Mi-17s that may be made available to Pakistan in the future, officials said. The U.S. military has several of the Russian-built medium-weight, single-rotor helicopters in its inventory, primarily for training purposes, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today.
Whitman called the helicopter delivery an example of the support the United States is ready to provide the Pakistanis, as requested. "We stand ready to help Pakistan in any way we can to fight the internal threat that exists there," he said.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said today he's "very proud" of indirect support the United States has been able to provide Pakistan, including training assistance as well as the helicopter delivery.
Petraeus praised the speed in which the delivery was made. "Within two or three weeks of [the] request from them for helicopter support, we wheeled four Mi-17s just refurbished out of the back of a Colt [military aircraft] yesterday," he said.
Meanwhile, the United States is exploring other, longer-term means of supporting Pakistan, including the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund, Whitman said. The Defense Department has requested $700 million for the fund as part of the fiscal 2010 budget.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates supports the program, which he told Congress will complement State Department efforts already under way or being planned, while enabling U.S. Central Command to help Pakistan increase its counterinsurgency capabilities.
Gates called these efforts "a vital element of the president's new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy."