The CIA has established a well-functioning spy network in Pakistan, providing tips that have lead to stepped-up drone attacks on suspected militants.
Sources tell HUMAN EVENTS that the cadre of Pakistani informants was years in the making. The U.S. had to convince them to trust Americans on one key issue: protecting their identity.
There is another component to improved intelligence. Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, and Gen. David Petreaus, the U.S. command for the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, have devoted large chunks of time to developing personal relationships with Islamabad’s national security leaders.
The two four-star officers have stressed the importance of taking on the Taliban and al Qaeda, presenting the two as risks to Pakistan’s long-term democracy.
As a result, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Service helped locate and capture the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 leader in Karachi, Abdul Ghani Barader. The ISI, which helped set up the Taliban in Afghanistan, has been reluctant to target its old ally, preferring to hedge its bets that the hardline Islamic group may one day regain power in Kabul.
A year ago in Senate testimony, Mullen spoke of his desire to reform the ISI.
" I have believed over the last year, since I’ve been involved, and visited Pakistan that the ISI, that in the long run it has to change its strategic thrust and get away from working both sides," Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "That’s how they’ve, they have been raised, certainly over the last couple of decades. And that’s what they believe, until, they think that we are going to be there for a while."
A former senior defense official still involved in Afghan-Pakistan issues said the outreach has made Pakistan comfortable enough to let the CIA establish a network of spies.
"We’ve been at this a long time," said this source. "We’ve been able to develop a series of people who are willing to cooperate with us because we’ve established relationships. The agency has been able to go that. And those things take time. It’s not something you do overnight. We’ve got agents working for us and that takes time to build up those relationships so you actually have trust and you get some effectiveness out of it. We have more targets and we have more effectiveness because of it."
To cement intelligence sharing, CIA director Leon Panetta visited Islamabad last spring to forge closer ties with the ISI, just as the Mullen-Petreaus team has worked with Pakistan Army chief Ashfaq Kiyani.
More targets mean more sorties for Predator strike drones, which are launched from ISI bases inside Pakistan. The U.S. had sought Pakistan’s approval for each strike. But President Bush ended that nicety in August 2008, after target information leaked to the militants.
Washington has one long-standing carte blanche. It may strike al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and his lieutenant, Yman al-Zawahri, without prior notification.
Evidence of a better targets: The CIA has launched nearly 40 strikes in a six month period last year, four times the previous rate.
HUMAN EVENTS asked a senior government official whether Pakistani-U.S. defense ties were improving.
The official said,
"The Pakistanis have worked for years with the United States against a number of extremist groups. Just think of all the bad guys captured and killed on Pakistani soil over the past several years. That’s picked up as the Pakistanis have come to understand even more clearly the serious threat they themselves face from terrorists. The Pakistanis taken major risks and demonstrated courage. With the American commitment in Afghanistan growing, with American and coalition soldiers dying in battle, the Pakistanis know they must also take action against the Afghan Taliban. No one’s ignoring their past with the Taliban, but no one’s ignoring Pakistani cooperation either. It’s one step at a time, and right now, the steps are moving in the right direction.”
At a press briefing Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about the Mullah Barader capture.
"I don’t want to get into specific captures," he said. " But I would say that what we are seeing is the importance of operations, on both sides of the border, and a manifestation of real progress, on the Pakistani side, of dealing with the threats that I’ve talked about, whether they’re the Pakistan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda, that they all work together, and the success of one is success of the rest."
In the past 12 months, intelligence officials have disclosed the names of prominent terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas killed by Predator missile strikes
For example, last September, Predators killed two on the U.S. most-wanted list. They were Nazimuddin Zalalov, also known as Yahyo, a leader of the Islamic Jihad of Uzbekistan and a bin Laden associate; and Ilya Kashmiri, head of Harkatul Jihad Islami, a Kashmiri terror group linked to al Qaeda.
The CIA, which launches the drones from command centers in the U.S., could not have chalked up those kills without precise intelligence on the terrorists’ locations.
Besides spies, the CIA, which has officers on the ground in the tribal areas, relies on networks of listening posts on the ground, on the Predators themselves and in space.