U.S. aiding Pakistani military offensive
drones are providing intelligence and surveillance video in support of
Pakistan's offensive in South Waziristan, the first time Islamabad has
accepted such help for major military operations.
By Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller
October 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington
U.S. military is providing intelligence and surveillance video from
unmanned aircraft to the Pakistani army to assist in its week-old
offensive in South Waziristan, marking the deepest American involvement
yet in a Pakistani military campaign, officials said.
The assistance includes imagery from armed Predator drones that Defense
officials say are being used exclusively for intelligence gathering in
Providing such information fills gaps in the Islamabad government's
spying arsenal, officials said, and helps show how the Obama
administration intends to intensify pressure on insurgents in Pakistan
as the administration overhauls the U.S. military strategy in
The cooperation also reflects a significant shift for Pakistan, which
had previously resisted U.S. offers to deploy Predators in support of
its military operations.
Recent militant attacks have shaken the Pakistani government,
convincing officials of the need for help in taking on militants.
Early today, police said, a suicide bomber killed six people in an
attack near a military complex in northern Pakistan.
On Thursday, gunmen opened fire on a Pakistani army jeep in Islamabad,
the capital, killing a senior officer and his driver.
The current offensive, marked by heavy fighting, is seen as crucial for
both the U.S. and Pakistan. South Waziristan is the base for Pakistani
militants who have mounted a string of attacks across the country, and
it is an important refuge for Al Qaeda.
"We are coordinating with the Pakistanis," said a senior U.S. military
official, one of several who confirmed the operations on condition of
anonymity. "And we do provide Predator support when requested."
For months the United States and Pakistan have been sharing information
from Predator flights in the volatile border regions, but until now the
Pakistanis had not accepted help for their major military operations.
Islamabad turned down American surveillance and targeting aid during
the offensive in the Swat district that began in May.
The use of military drones for intelligence gathering in Pakistan is
separate from the ongoing Predator attack campaign being carried out in
that country by the CIA. Over the last 18 months, missile strikes from
CIA-operated drones have killed at least 13 senior Al Qaeda or Taliban
operatives in Pakistan's tribal zone.
U.S. assistance is deeply controversial in Pakistan, which wants to
avoid the appearance that it is dependent on the American government or
The two governments have had difficulty in sharing some information in
the past. American officers have accused Pakistani officials of tipping
off targets about upcoming strikes. But a senior U.S. Defense official
said that in the Waziristan offensive, U.S. and Pakistani interests are
"The Pakistanis are getting more and more serious about the militant
threat," said the official.
"You are going to see more sharing as trust develops and assurance
develops that they are using the information for effective operations
against Al Qaeda and the Taliban."
A Pakistani military official acknowledged the intelligence
cooperation, saying the U.S. was helping to provide a "composite
picture" of the enemy and the terrain in which it is embedded.
The Pakistani official and a senior U.S. official both said that the
offensive followed high-level talks between the two nations' military
Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in
Afghanistan, had flown to Islamabad to work out coordination on the
border and intelligence-sharing issues before the Pakistani military
campaign began, the Pakistani official said.
Similarly, Pakistani officers, including the commander of the nation's
air force, have held meetings with Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other U.S. officials in
Washington in recent weeks.
White House deliberations over McChrystal's recommendation to send
reportedly 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan have received heavy
attention in recent weeks, but the Obama administration also has
examined how to provide more effective assistance to Pakistan.
The administration is moving toward rebalancing its focus between
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vice President Joe Biden and other key
civilian and military leaders have argued that Pakistan receives
insufficient U.S. attention and resources.
The Pakistani offensive is principally aimed at a militant group that
has carried out the recent series of deadly attacks in the country, and
was formerly led by Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud, killed by
a CIA drone airstrike in August.
U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan to expand its military campaign to
other Taliban groups and hope the Pakistanis will next take aim at
North Waziristan, used as a haven by Afghanistan's Taliban factions.
The Pakistani military official said there was "no discrimination" when
it comes to which Taliban groups to pursue.
Still, U.S. officials said they have seen no indication that the latest
campaign has targeted, or will target, militants linked to Afghan
Taliban leaders such as Mullah Mohammed Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Some defense analysts said it was crucial for the Pakistanis to
consolidate their gains in South Waziristan before moving on to other
"We would like them to extend the offensive," said Stephen Biddle, a
military historian and defense analyst. "But we would also like them to
hold what they clear. It might or might not be a good call for them to
add territorial goals, when it is most important for them to hold what
Frederick Kagan, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise
Institute, argued that helping the Pakistanis retake South Waziristan
is vital both to the stability of Pakistan and to the U.S. campaign
against Al Qaeda.
"It is conceivable that we could look back at this South Waziristan
operation as a turning point in the war against Al Qaeda," Kagan said.
"This has been the safe haven for these guys."
American officials said the new cooperation has developed partly
because the U.S. has broadened its outreach to Pakistani officials
beyond Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistani army chief of staff.
The U.S. believes that if it can get Islamabad to accept more help, the
Pakistani offensive will be more effective.
Right after the Swat operation, Pakistani leaders talked of an
offensive in Waziristan, but it did not happen then. The military's
munitions needed replenishing, analysts said.
Previous offensives by the military against insurgents in Waziristan
did not last. After operations in 2003 and 2004 came cease-fires that
allowed Taliban forces to regroup.
Pakistani leaders have been accused of downplaying the militant threat,
but the Pakistani official described a new level of resolve. "There is
a national urgency to do away with this militancy once and for all,"
the official said.
Pakistan has superior human intelligence on the ground, where its
powerful Inter-Services Intelligence has cultivated networks of
informants among militant groups. But the government has a limited
ability to intercept cellphone calls and other transmissions.
"Any type of imagery would be of use to the Pakistanis, either
from Predator or other means," said another senior U.S. Defense
In particular, the official said, Pakistan has sought intelligence
"on locations of the enemy, resupply routes, resupply activity . . . in
Military experts said the Predator surveillance video could help ground
units target militants and gain better awareness of the threats around
"The drones are not wonder weapons," said Biddle, the military
"But in this situation, a relatively conventional ground offensive, the
Pakistanis want the ability to see over the hill, and in that, U.S.
drones can be a lot of help."
2009 Los Angeles Times