INDIAN,U.S. Armies to Hold First Joint Exercise

May 6, 2002
NEW DELHI -- India said on Sunday it would hold its first joint army war games with the United States, another sign of growing ties between two nations that once sat on opposite sides in the cold war.

Exercise balance Iroquois, in the northern Indian town of Agra, comes as India is involved in a tense military stand-off with neighbor Pakistan.

The United States suspended military links with India and Pakistan after they carried out nuclear tests in 1998, but ties have resumed with both nations, especially after they supported U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

The exercise will involve Indian army para-commandos, U.S. special forces from its Asia-Pacific command and aircraft from both countries, an Indian defense spokesman said.

"The aim of this exercise is training in airborne assault where para-jumping is involved. It's a follow up of our new relationship with the U.S. involving defense supplies, training and other areas," the spokesman told Reuters.

This was a first for the two armies, although there has been some contact between Indian and U.S. navies in the past, he added.

Details on the number of soldiers participating in the mid-May exercise, around 650km (400 miles) from the Pakistan border and to last about a week, were unavailable.

The stand-off between India and Pakistan has raised fears of a fourth war between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Thousands of Indian and Pakistan troops are facing off across their joint border, a build up that follows an attack on India's Parliament in December which New Delhi blames on Kashmiri separatists based in Pakistan.

The two sides regularly exchange fire along the border dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir, killing dozens of people since the crisis erupted, although the situation has cooled in recent times.

Dozens of people, many of them Muslim militants, die daily in Indian side of Kashmir where New Delhi has been trying to quell a revolt against its rule for over 12 years.

While Pakistan has been a U.S. ally much longer than India, New Delhi has continued building up links with Washington.

Top military officials have exchanged visits and Washington agreed to resume sales of defense equipment that were banned under sanctions imposed after the nuclear weapons tests.

India last month bought eight long-range, weapon-locating radars from U.S.-based Raytheon Co, marking the first major weapons deal between the two countries in recent history.

In the past, non-aligned India mostly bought Russian military hardware. Lately it has been shopping for hi-tech weaponry from the United States and Israel although Russia remains its main defense supplier.

Troops from both countries are also planning a joint mountain-warfare exercise in Alaska, the first time Indian troops will take part in war games in the United States.

They also come at a time when the Indian army is conducting war games in the deserts of the western state of Rajasthan and the northern state of Punjab to keep its soldiers fighting fit.