Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Pakistan Helps the U.S. Drone Campaign

Via Reuters (Jan 22, 2012) -

The death of a senior al Qaeda leader in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signaled that the U.S.-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions.

The Jan 10 strike -- and its follow-up two days later -- were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters.

They made use of Pakistani "spotters" on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.

"Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship," the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. "It's more productive."

U.S. and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a U.S. commando team.


The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the U.S. official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan.

The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations.

"We run a network of human intelligence sources," he said. "Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones.

"Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our U.S. and UK friends," he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive.

Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint "priority of targets lists" in regular face-to-face meetings, he said.

"Al Qaeda is our top priority," he said.

He declined to say where the meetings take place.

Once a target is identified and "marked," his network coordinates with drone operators on the U.S. side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles north of the capital.

From spotting to firing a missile "hardly takes about two to three hours," he said.

It was impossible to verify the source's claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis' cooperation has been less helpful in the past.

U.S. officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape.

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