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US-Pakistan military cooperation on the increase: WSJ report

January 06, 2009

WASHINGTON, Jan 5: Military cooperation between Pakistan and the United States has increased recently as both try to eliminate militants destabilising the region, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The newspaper noted that this was a “marked change” from last year’s tense relations between the two countries.

According to the report, the United States is now allowing Pakistani officers to view video feeds from unmanned drones flying over the country’s ungoverned border regions. The US is also granting access to American intercepts of militant cellular and satellite phone calls inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military is using the US intelligence to carry out strikes against extremists in Fata.

“The cooperation is a contrast from earlier last year when Islamabad, reacting to public anger over US ground and air strikes inside the country, withheld military cooperation,” the report noted.

Maj-Gen Jeffrey Schloesser, the top US commander in eastern Afghanistan, told the paper that the number of insurgents crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan had begun to decrease, reducing a major cause of instability in Afghanistan. Gen Schloesser said US and Afghan forces, which were hit by up to 20 rockets a day over the summer, were now hit by two or three.

US officials attributed the decline to American missile strikes on insurgent targets inside Pakistan and the coordinated military campaign known as Operation Lionheart, which involves US moves against militants in Kunar and a large Pakistani campaign in Bajaur.

“The operations in Bajaur and the Predator strikes in Waziristan have caused a disruption across the border,” Gen Schloesser said. The general’s comments mark one of the first times a senior US official has publicly confirmed the use of US missile strikes in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s chief military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told the paper that Operation Lionheart had succeeded in pushing many militants out of Bajaur, which had long been the main extremist stronghold in north-western Pakistan.

The report noted that US officials credited the turnaround in part to army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani, who had come to believe that militants posed an extreme threat.

“Gen Kayani replaced the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, which has long maintained covert ties to the Taliban and other armed groups, and has devoted significant military resources towards the fight in the border regions,” the report added.

It noted that Pakistan’s fragile civilian government has also taken a harder line towards the militants than many US officials expected.

William Wood, the US Ambassador in Kabul, said in a recent interview that Pakistan was “unquestionably taking more effective action” against militants.

“The only reason I wouldn’t refer to it as a bright spot is that the problem is such a big one,” he said.

The report described a small base at Torkham as the focal point of the US-Pakistani military cooperation. The American-built base here opened in the spring, and was meant to house military personnel from the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is where Pakistani military officers receive access to American “signals intelligence” mainly intercepts of radio traffic, cellular and satellite phone calls.

Major Robert Brown, the top US official at Torkham, said the base was meant to “knit together” the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan.