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Air force first in Alaska games

New Delhi, June 2: An Indian Air Force team has left to participate for the first time in a multilateral exercise conducted by the United States Air Force in Alaska. The exercise usually includes militaries from the Pacific Rim countries. India has been an observer in “Exercise Cooperative Cope Thunder” once earlier.

IAF sources said the Indian contingent comprises an IL-76 heavy-duty transport aircraft and a team of 31, headed by Group Captain S.R.K. Nair. Apart from the US’ own Pacific Air Force, the other participating countries are Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Canada and the UK.

Indian participation in a US military exercise of the nature of “Exercise Cooperative Cope Thunder” coincides with deliberations within the security establishment in Delhi over the possible despatch of an Indian force to Iraq.

New Delhi is still undecided on whether it can send a military or a paramilitary contingent as part of the “stabilisation forces” in Iraq now that the UN has formally acknowledged the US and Britain as the occupying powers in Baghdad.

It cannot be concluded that the IAF participation in the multilateral exercise is a fallout of these deliberations.

The schedule under the series of exercises called “Cope Thunder” — held every year since 1976 — is usually drawn up much earlier. This year the exercise will be held from June 5 to June 20.

However, the nature of the exercise in Alaskan and Canadian airspace factors in possible participation by countries other than the US and the UK in international military or peacekeeping missions.

The IAF also says that it is participating in a “coalition exercise”. “Coalition” has been the term favoured by the US and the UK to describe their military mission in Iraq.

IAF sources said the exercise would give exposure to its aircrew in transport (airlift) operations during war-like situations, in flying tactical missions for aerial re-supply and para-dropping, and in missions to re-supply friendly forces and in integrating available forces into large force packages.

According to the US military public affairs department, “Exercise Cooperative Cope Thunder” is designed to bring Pacific Rim countries to Alaska to train and fight together.

The exercise includes multinational airlift operations for interdiction, personnel recovery, humanitarian airlift and peacekeeping.

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