Drones aided by `human assets` on the ground
PESHAWAR, Dec 29: Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced ability to hit moving targets in the lawless North Waziristan tribal region indicates the effectiveness of real-time intelligence provided by human assets on the ground, government and security officials say.
But some of them privately agree that this huge turnaround in terms of intelligence gathering for the CIA in North Waziristan once termed an ‘intelligence black hole’ could not have come about without the explicit consent and acquiescence of Pakistan’s security apparatus.
There have been a total of 112 air strikes by the remote-controlled Predator in western tribal regions since January 1 this year. But most of these strikes, 98, were conducted in North Waziristan, official record shows.
Thirty-nine of these strikes targeting Al Qaeda and its Pakistani affiliates in North Waziristan, a security official said, took place over the past three months.
The official said the strikes had killed 605 people; of them 507 were Pakistanis, majority of them militants, and 98 foreigners.
But what has come as a surprise to many officials here is CIA’s increasing ability to take out moving targets.
On Monday, Predators fired missiles at two vehicles in Zara Mela in Sheratala, 15m to the northwest of North Waziristan’s regional
headquarters of Miramshah, killing 18 people.
“One of the vehicles was loaded with explosives to the hilt and had it been targeted in a compound the devastation would have been huge,” the official said. “So a moving target is ideal in the sense that it minimises chances of collateral damage.”
Officials in the tribal region say that there has been mounting evidence of the CIA tracking moving targets from inside Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal region and taking them out.
“The evidence we have is circumstantial but that the CIA is able to hit mobile target demonstrates enhanced humint (human intelligence) on the ground,” the official said, requesting not to be named.
“The Americans seem to have made considerable ingress in our tribal regions and I doubt this could have happened without our knowledge and approval,” a credible source said.
If true, this would demonstrate a contradiction between Pakistan’s publicly stated opposition to drone strikes in the tribal region and covert support for the CIA in identifying targets.
The source referred to reports of increased cooperation between Pakistani and US intelligence agencies, despite a recent tiff over an attempt to involve the ISI chief in the Mumbai attacks in a US court and exposure of CIA’s station chief in Islamabad Jonathan Banks, which the US media described as a tit-for-tat response by Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency.
The security official acknowledged that “real-time intelligence” in North Waziristan had enabled the CIA to hit moving targets.
“They have improved their intelligence collection to deliver punishment in real time,” was how one official described the recent escalation in Predator strikes in the tribal areas.
“Moving targets tend to vanish quickly. So have to have human intelligence on the ground to identify and engage the target in real time in a matter of minutes,” the official said.
“This requires credible intelligence and communication system to direct the strike and this means that CIA’s human intelligence has improved considerably,” the official said.
Officials told Dawn on background basis that the escalation in drone strikes and CIA’s increasing ability to take out moving targets have put further strains on the militants and forced them to restrict their movement.
“Their freedom of movement has been curtailed to a great extent. This has caused demoralisation,” an official said.
“There is no discrimination while taking out targets, be they Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda and their foreign affiliates.”
Growing suspicion of intelligence infiltration among militants has prompted countless execution of local and Afghan tribesmen.
Since January last, official record reveals, 26 people were killed on suspicion of working for the CIA to identify potential targets, although one senior official who has served in the tribal region said that almost 70 per cent of those killing on spying charges, actually fell to tribal vendetta.
“Spying charges are just a ruse to settle mutual feuds,” the official said. “In majority of cases we looked into the victims were those who had family and tribal feuds,” he said.