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Arrow Pakistan allowing CIA to use airbase for drone strikes - >>   Show Printable Version  Show Printable Version   Email this Page  Email this Page   02-20-2009, 10:44 AM

THE CIA is launching deadly attacks on Pakistani-based militants from within the country's borders with the co-operation of the civilian Government, which is trying to balance its commitments to its war-on-terror ally and stem a growing Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan has repeatedly denounced the US predator drone attacks on its soil, which have succeeded in eliminating more than half of al-Qa'ida's local commanders in the past six months, and has claimed the strikes have caused hundreds of civilian lives and triggered anti-American sentiment.
But reports in The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal yesterday suggested that Pakistan had been secretly co-operating in covert US operations by allowing the CIA to launch strikes from the remote Shamsi airfield, 50km from the Afghanistan border.
The Times cited as evidence the delivery of 2.8 million litres of aviation fuel to Shamsi last year, a $US3.2 million purchase that was logged on the Pentagon's fuel procurement agency website. The delivery coincided with a marked escalation in US drone attacks on militant strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Pakistan told the paper Shamsi was not the fuel's final destination. He also denied the US had any military bases in the country.
"No. No. No. No. No. We unequivocally and emphatically can tell you that there is no basing of US troops in Pakistan," he said, adding that he could not comment on CIA operations.
The US is believed to have launched more than 30 unmanned Predator drones within Pakistan since August. Two in the past week have killed more than 50 suspected militants. Most of the strikes have so far targeted
al-Qa'ida and Taliban fighters who use Pakistan's tribal areas as a base from which to launch cross-border attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Each attack draws howls of protest from Pakistan, which publicly claims the US strikes are a breach of its national sovereignty.
But officials from both countries quietly admit that Pakistan's civilian Government has come to recognise the benefits of co-operating with the US drone strikes, as it struggles to contain a Taliban insurgency that has spread from its border lands into the North West Frontier Province and some of its largest cities.
A Western source told The Times the CIA "runs Predator flights routinely" from Shamsi.
Local journalist Safar Khan said: "We can see the planes flying from the base. The area around the base is a high-security zone and no one is allowed there."
He said the outer perimeter of Shamsi was guarded by Pakistani military, but the airfield itself was under the control of US forces.
Several officials said Shamsi's proximity to Pakistan's border regions and Afghanistan allowed the US to attack more quickly and with greater accuracy.
While regional observers have long suspected a greater level of co-operation between the two countries than is publicly stated, a careless comment by Californian senator Dianne Feinstein this month -- that the Predators were flown out of a base in Pakistan, not US bases in Afghanistan -- has drawn attention to the issue.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi responded by categorically denying that Pakistani bases were being used for US drone attacks.
Pakistani military spokesman Akhtar Abbas admitted yesterday that the US was using Shamsi "for logistics", as well as another airbase near Jacobabad, 500km northeast of Karachi, but insisted neither airbase was being used for Predator launches.
US forces used both airfields in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, but cleared out of them in 2006, Pakistan officials claimed.
Other Pakistani officials said the Government's publicly stated opposition to the drone strikes was "really for the sake of public opinion".
A former US intelligence official told The Wall Street Journal that co-operation between the two countries' intelligence services had always been strong.
"There's always been a double game," the former official said. "There's the game they'll play out in public (but) there has always been good co-operation."


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Default >>   Show Printable Version  Show Printable Version   Email this Page  Email this Page   02-26-2009, 12:24 PM

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