ISLAMABAD, Oct 22: The United States on Monday formally handed over 26 Bell-412 and four refurbished Cobra helicopters to Pakistan. Addressing the ceremony held at the Qasim Aviation Base in Rawalpindi, US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson said the day marked a new chapter in Pakistan Army’s aviation history and demonstrated continued US commitment.

“Our military assistance programmes are for the long term. They are the foundation for cooperation and engagement and a way to strengthen our bonds as partners and allies,” Ms Patterson said.

In 2004, Pakistan and the US had embarked on a long-term $235million project to build the army aviation capability. During the first phase, Pakistan was given helicopters on lease while the US provided resources, funding, training, and support. The aircraft were used in operations against extremists.

“Today we celebrate the beginning of Phase-II. The Pakistan Army now takes ownership of these helicopters,” she said.

“The US will continue to provide support and training as Pakistan establishes a helicopter force capable of enhancing combat operations, providing security, and engaging in medical evacuations and humanitarian relief throughout the region.”

“The American and Pakistani armed forces have a long and rich history of cooperation,” Ms Patterson said. “This relationship is represented by more than five billion dollars in military programs over the last six years.”

Ms Patterson paid rich tributes to the “courage and professionalism” of Pakistan Army aviation personnel and declared them “an asset to Pakistan Army Aviation and to our combined effort to fight extremism and bring peace and stability to the region.”

Secretary Defence Kamran Rasool thanked the US government and said the induction of Bell-412 and Cobra helicopters would significantly enhance operational capabilities.

Director General Army Aviation Major General Syed Taqi Naseer Rizvi thanked the US authorities for their support and hoped the cooperation would continue in future. He highlighted the role of Cobra gunship helicopters and hoped the induction of Bell-412 would go a long way in fortifying the country’s capability in effectively combating the menace of terrorism.

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