Pakistani Army Says Soldiers Need More Gear

November's terrorist rampage in Mumbai is bringing more pressure than ever on Pakistan to eliminate the thousands of armed extremists who are operating from its soil. But the Pakistani Army insists it's already doing all it can with the limited equipment it has. To do more, the country's top military men say, they urgently need the improved gear that the United States has been promising them for years. "We are on a war footing," says Pakistan's national-security chief, retired Army Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani. "But [the U.S.] supply chain is working on a peacetime basis. You have to support us at much greater speed."

Senior Pakistani officials say Washington promised in 2004 to deliver 20 Cobra helicopters within two years. Four years have passed, they complain, and only 12 have arrived. They need the remaining eight in a hurry. "We're burning them up at quite a rate," says a senior Pakistani official who declined to be identified because of the subject's sensitivity. "We use them aggressively in combat almost daily." Complaining to the Americans seems to do at least some good. Lately, he says, they've expedited the release of spare parts for the existing fleet of Cobras. Still, the Pakistanis have a long backlist of items they need in the war against the militants. A few examples:

• Precision-laser target designators for their F-16 fighters, helicopters and infantry to minimize collateral damage from strikes against militant hideouts.

• Laser-guided bombs and ammunition for use with the targeting devices.

• Night-vision aviation goggles. "We have received some but we need more," says the senior official. "You can't fly at night without them."

• Jamming equipment to protect military vehicles from IEDs.

• Electronic eavesdropping equipment to find and monitor militants' communications.

The Pakistani military has "a reasonable basis for complaint," says a congressional staff expert on U.S. arms sales who is allowed to speak only on background, "but that's universal, not unique to Pakistan." Nevertheless, he says, the delays probably arose at least in part from Washington's impatience at the previous regime's reluctance to take decisive action against the militants. Former president Pervez Musharraf often promised to get tough, but his efforts always seemed halfhearted. In situations like that, the congressional source says, "there's a drill that's as old as the hills, which is you do the slowdown of deliveries … I think a lot of this came to a head prior to the changeover of government in Pakistan, so things may be getting better now." Pakistani troops can only hope so.