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Ridge says unmanned drones could be patrolling borders

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Unmanned aerial drones similar to ones used in the war on Iraq could be patrolling the U.S. border by the end of the year to help stem illegal immigration and increase security, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Thursday.

"We are very serious in looking at UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) for both border applications, land and sea," Ridge told the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Predators and other remote-controlled aircraft can watch over a potential target and fly for hundreds of miles with cameras, sensors, communications equipment or missiles.

Support has grown for the unmanned aircraft since their success during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Spy cameras aboard a drone allowed U.S. commanders to watch the capture of Palestinian hijacking suspect Abul Abbas and oversee the rescue of Army prisoner-of-war Pfc. Jessica Lynch. They also foiled an Iraqi ambush on U.S. and British troops. In November, an unmanned Predator drone killed suspected al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.

Several Western congressmen have endorsed the use of the unmanned vehicles over the U.S.-Mexico border, including Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.

"Helicopters are great but are phenomenally expensive," Shadegg said. "I think UAV would be key."

The Coast Guard is looking at new UAV technology that they can launch from their ships, allowing them to extend their patrols for hundreds of miles, Ridge said. But "where you have wide open spaces, it's a lot easier for us to take a look at some of the technology that is presently employed by the Department of Defense," Ridge said.

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