U.S. Eyes Upgrade For Pakistan Warplanes

The Bush administration is considering shifting more than $200 million intended for counterterrorism to help Pakistan make improvements to its fleet of F-16 jets. Congressional critics question claims that enhanced F-16s will be useful in the fight against terrorists.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And one thing the Bush administration believes would help the Pakistani government go after extremists is to upgrade its aging fleet of fighter jets. The administration has asked Congress to allow Pakistan to use more than $200 million moved from other counterterrorism operations to modernize F-16s.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Members of Congress have doubts about the reprogramming request. A key Senate appropriator, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, said lawmakers need to know if upgrading F-16s is the best way to help Pakistan combat al-Qaida and the Taliban. New York Democrat Nita Lowey raised similar questions on the House side.

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos responded this way.

Mr. GONZALO GALLEGOS (State Department): These midlife updating announcements are going to provide Pakistan's air force with the technological capability to conduct precision close air strikes against al-Qaida, Taliban and associated terrorist targets who exploit the federally administrated tribal areas.

KELEMEN: He argued the upgrades will make it possible for the jets to fly safely in all weather day and night.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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