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Pakistani officials on board for drone attacks: WSJ

February 19, 2009


Tribesmen gather at the site of a drone missile attack in Tappi, a village 20 km east of Miramshah.—R
Tribesmen gather at the site of a drone missile attack in Tappi, a village 20 km east of Miramshah.—Reuters/File

NEW YORK Although Pakistans leaders have publicly denounced US missile strikes as an attack on the countrys sovereignty, but privately Pakistani military and intelligence officers are aiding these attacks and have given significant support to recent US missions, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday quoting officials from both countries.

American unmanned Predator aircraft have killed scores of militants in Pakistan in more than 30 missile strikes since August, provoking outrage in the South Asian nation. Two in the past four days have killed more than 50 suspected militants.

Yet, with the Taliban pushing deeper into the country, Pakistans civilian and military leaders, while publicly condemning the attacks, have come to see the strikes as effective and are passing on intelligence that has helped recent missions, say officials from both countries.

As a result, 'the Predator strikes are more and more precise,' a Pakistani official told WSJ.

The newspaper said that eleven of al Qaedas top 20 commanders have been killed or captured since August because of the Predator missions conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the Pakistani official, and current and former US intelligence officials.

Dennis C. Blair, the new US director of national intelligence, said last week that 'a succession of blows' to al Qaeda in Pakistans Federally Administered Tribal Areas have thrown the group off balance, forcing it to promote inexperienced operators to leadership posts.

The Journal said among those killed include al Qaeda militarys chief, Khalid Habib; Abu Layth al-Libi, whom US officials described as 'a rising star' in the group; Abu Khabab al-Masri, al Qaedas leading chemical-weapons expert; and Usama al-Kini, who was believed to be involved in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and later planned attacks in Pakistan.

Drones help in surveillance and target identification as well as strikes. On Jan. 22, Pakistani paramilitary forces arrested Zabu ul Taifi, a Saudi national and alleged al Qaeda operative, in an operation described by a Pakistani intelligence officer as 'a direct result of better cooperation' with the US.

An officer from Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistans premier spy agency, said Mr. Taifi was located at a safe house in the Khyber Agency, one of the tribal areas that run along the border with Afghanistan, through a combination of human intelligence from Pakistani agents, informants on the ground and aerial surveillance by US drones.

Once authorities were confident Mr. Taifi was in the walled, mud compound, Pakistani paramilitary forces backed by helicopters grabbed him, the officer said.

Throughout, Predator drones hovered overhead and would have attacked if Mr. Taifi or other suspects had tried to escape, the officer said. In all, Mr. Taifi and six other men —Afghans and Pakistanis —were nabbed in the raid.

Maj. Gen Akhtar Abbas, a spokesman for the military, said Pakistan and the US 'has a long history of military cooperation and intelligence sharing.' But he said it doesnt include the missiles strikes. 'We have made our opposition clear,' he said. 'The strikes are counterproductive.'