ISLAMABAD: The United States military continues to remain worried about the possibility of Chinese having accessed the wreckage of Stealth helicopter that crashed during the May 2 Abbottabad raid despite clarifications from Beijing and Islamabad, but doesn’t want to make it an issue in the fractured relationship.
“The only thing I can say is that we are trying to move the relations forward past this incident,” said Captain John Kirby, spokesman for Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, while talking to Dawn by phone from Washington on Wednesday.
Pakistan and US are now discussing plans for a meeting between Admiral Mullen and Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani before the former retires next month. However, no dates have been finalised as yet.
Admiral Mullen, who had been a frequent visitor to Pakistan as chairman joint chiefs, did not visit Islamabad during his farewell visit to the region, setting off speculations about reasons for avoiding a stopover in the Pakistani capital.
“Chairman still believes military-to-military relations between the US and Pakistan are vital and he is committed to improving them,” he said.
The spokesman, however, confirmed that Admiral Mullen conveyed his concerns to Pakistani Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani about the wreckage of Stealth helicopter being exposed.
“All I can tell you about that is that the chairman did discuss with Gen Kayani his concerns about the security of the helicopter,” Captain Kirby said.
This is probably the first time that US military has publicly confirmed its concerns about the secret technology being compromised.
The conversation between Admiral Mullen and Gen Kayani about the Stealth helicopter took place before the wreckage was returned to the US in the last week of May. The discussion happened after first media reports said that Chinese might have been allowed to inspect the technology.
Western media reports say that although the US knows that Chinese engineers inspected the wreckage, it does not have any concrete proof.
The Stealth helicopter was used for the first time in an active military operation. The SEAL Team had attempted to destroy the wreckage after the crash, but its tail remained intact.
Pakistan returned the wreckage after a visit by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator John Kerry to Islamabad for easing tensions in the aftermath of the raid in which Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed.
Capt Kirby said Pakistan military should address the question whether the Chinese had been given access to the helicopter.
ISPR spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas confirmed that Admiral Mullen had raised the issue with Gen Kayani, but he dismissed American fears as baseless.
“The two discussed the sensitivity of the issue and there is no chance of anyone having been allowed to access the wreckage,” he said.
Admiral Mullen’s spokesman also denied that the chairman joint chiefs skipped Islamabad during his visit to Afghanistan last month to protest against Pakistan’s decision to provide the Chinese access to the downed helicopter.
“I want to assert in the strongest possible terms that the reason why Admiral Mullen did not come to Pakistan in his latest visit was wholly driven by schedule constraints here in Washington DC and not at all driven by tensions between our two countries and certainly not driven by any specific concerns over the helicopter,” he said and added that Gen Kayani understood those scheduling constraints.
The Independent had earlier reported that Admiral Mullen shunned Pakistan during his final visit to the region because of its decision to allow the Chinese to take a close look at the crashed US helicopter.