On January 31, 2024, The Wire, a left-leaning portal, claimed that the US government had halted the sale of 31 Predator drones to India. The article, written by defense analyst Ajai Shukla, alleged that the US had suspended the delivery of MQ-9A Sea Guardian and Sky Guardian drones pending a meaningful investigation by the Indian government into an alleged plot to assassinate Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
Contradicting The Wire’s report, Hindustan Times later reported that the US Congress had approved the drone sale to India. According to HT’s exclusive report, the US State Department informed Predator Drone manufacturer General Atomics that the Congress had cleared the ‘tiered review’ of the 31 MQ9B drone sale to India.
The conflicting claims raised confusion about the status of the strategic defense deal. However, during a regular press briefing, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller dismissed The Wire’s report, stating there was no truth in the claim that the deal had been blocked by the US government. When asked about the report, Miller responded, “I love, nice try.”
Although Miller didn’t provide details on when the formal notification would occur, he emphasized the significant growth in the US-Indian Defense Partnership over the past decade. He reiterated that the proposed sale, announced during Prime Minister Modi’s visit the previous year, aimed to advance strategic technology cooperation and military collaboration in the region.
News18 also published a report supporting Hindustan Times’ claims, stating that the US Congress had cleared the ‘tiered review’ of the drone sale to India. The report mentioned that officials dismissed The Wire’s assertion that the US government had blocked the deal, emphasizing that it didn’t impact the crucial bilateral relationship between the nations.
In summary, The Wire’s report seems baseless, as per the comments from the US State Department spokesperson and other media reports. While the US Congress approval for the deal hadn’t been confirmed, there is no evidence supporting the claim that the deal was blocked over the alleged Pannun plot. The situation underscores the importance of verifying information from multiple sources before drawing conclusions.
Note: The Defense Security Cooperation Agency under the United States Department announced formal approval of the sale on February 1, contradicting The Wire’s claim. The agency stated that the State Department approved the sale of 31 General Atomics MQ-9B drones and related equipment to India for an estimated cost of $3.99 billion. This further discredits The Wire’s report.