US accuses China of directing laser at its pilots

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Djibouti, May 4 (IANS) The US has formally complained to China after alleging that the Chinese military injured two American airmen by directing high-grade lasers at their aircraft in Djibouti.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said at a briefing on Thursday that Washington requested Beijing to investigate incidents in the past few weeks in which US aircraft in Djibouti had been affected by unauthorised Chinese laser activity.

The Pentagon said people at the east African base had been shining military-grade lasers at US pilots coming in to land, the Washington Post reported. In one case, two pilots on a cargo plane suffered minor eye injuries, officials said.

“This activity poses a true threat to our airmen,” White said, adding that “the incidents had grown increasingly serious”. China, however, rejected the complaint by the US.

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Military-grade laser beams, occasionally known as “dazzlers”, omit a powerful beam of light that can travel great distances and be used to illuminate aircraft cockpits, temporarily blinding pilots.

The US and China both have bases in Djibouti, an East African nation on the Gulf of Aden with fewer than one million people. Djibouti has become a hub of foreign military activity in recent years, hosting bases from an array of countries including France, Italy and Japan. Saudi Arabia is planning to build a base there as well.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua dismissed the allegations and said: “After careful verification we have told the US explicitly that the accusation is totally inconsistent with fact,” she said.

The incidents with the lasers, which can temporarily blind pilots, come as one of the first major dust-ups since China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017.

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The facility’s opening raised concerns among American military officials about the proximity of the Chinese military installation to American forces. The Chinese have characterised the base as a logistics hub for peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations.

American authorities recently issued a notice warning pilots to “use extreme caution when transiting near the area”.

–IANS

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