ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The United States has unveiled plans to provide Pakistan with 12 unmanned spy drones to boost surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities as it continues to take on the Taliban.
The plans were disclosed during a recent visit here by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who sought to persuade Pakistan, a key ally, to do more to fight militant groups within its borders.
"There are some tactical UAVs that we are considering…" Gates said in an interview with Pakistani television. "We are in partnership with the Pakistani military and we are working to give them their own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles, both aircraft and drones," he added.
Members of his entourage later explained that funds had been set aside to 12 Shadow aerial drones for Pakistan, according to local media.
The RQ-7 Shadow drones, smaller than the armed Predator and Reaper aircraft, are about 11 feet long and have a wing-span of 14 feet. They feed video images back to their ground operators from the sensors and cameras mounted on the drones.
Unlike the Predator, the Shadow drones do not have missile capabilities to strike the targets they observe. Still, experts say, they represent the technological advancement in the growing U.S. military relationship with Pakistan.
Local media said that it remained unclear whether the Shadow drones would be used along Pakistan's eastern border with India.
The issue is a delicate one for Washington.
While it has shared drone technology with allies, it has a controlled policy is sharing such hardware in volatile parts of the world.
U.S. officials have suggested that Pakistan also invest in specialized training to exploit the sophisticated hardware soon to be injected into its military.
In his interview, Gates dismissed suggestions that India posed a major threat to Pakistan, saying extremists posed the most imminent danger.
Gates' drone deal came days before a suspected U.S. drone crashed in Pakistan's lawless region near the Afghan border, where militant groups stage routine cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The strikes are part of a broader strategy by President Barack Obama's administration to rely more on the unmanned aircraft to kill militants in Pakistan than his predecessor.
The militants have since then responded with a spate of killings targeting people they suspect of helping facilitate the drone strikes.
In recent weeks, stories about "suspicious" behavior by American diplomats and the military have circulated widely. Among them, reports that envoys entered the country illegally to snoop around secret areas.