U.S. military, Pakistan carrying out Predator drone missions together
Washington has given Pakistan the freedom to launch airstrikes against militants, but so far the Pakistanis have been reluctant, officials say. The program is a marked shift for both sides.
By Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller
6:01 PM PDT, May 12, 2009
Reporting from Washington -- The U.S. military has begun flying armed Predator drones inside Pakistan and has given Pakistani officers significant control over targets, flight routes and decisions to launch attacks under a new joint operation, according to U.S. officials familiar with the program.
The project was begun in recent weeks to bolster Pakistan's ability and willingness to disrupt the militant groups that are posing a growing threat to the government in Islamabad and fueling violence in Afghanistan.
For the U.S. military, the missions represent a broad new role in searching for Islamic militants in Pakistan. For years, that task has been the domain of the CIA, which has flown its own fleet of Predators over the South Asian nation.
Under the new partnership, U.S. military drones will be allowed for the first time to venture beyond the borders of Afghanistan under the direction of Pakistani military officials, who are working with American counterparts at a command center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said the program was aimed at getting Pakistan -- which has frequently protested airstrikes in its territory as a violation of sovereignty -- more directly and deeply engaged in the Predator program.
"This is about building trust," said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the program has not been publicly acknowledged. "This is about giving them capabilities they do not currently have to help them defeat this radical extreme element that is in their country."
U.S. military, Pakistan carrying out Predator drone missions together - Los Angeles Times