Friday, August 21, 2009

CIA has set-up another drone base in Jalalabad

Apparently buoyed by the success of its armed Unmanned Aeriel Vehicles in targeting elusive Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists in Pakistan, CIA has set-up another drone base in Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan to step up the hunt for likes of Osama Bin Laden.

Officials said the CIA now conducted most of its Predator missile and bomb strikes on targets in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region from the Jalalabad base, with drones landing or taking off almost hourly,” The New York Times reported.

The base in Pakistan is still in use. But officials said that the United States decided to open the Afghanistan operation in part because of the possibility that the Pakistani government, facing growing anti-American sentiment at home, might force the CIA to close the one in Pakistan,” it said.

So far, CIA has been using the Shamsi base in Baluchistan for tracking and hunting down high-value targets amongst Al-Qaeda and Taliban hiding in lawless Waziristan province in Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.

Siting the new-drone base in Jalalabad will give US forces leverage to hit Afghan-Taliban bases, specially the hideouts of militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons in their strongholds of Khost, Pakhtia and Paktita, which lie east of the Jalalabad town.

After the reported death of Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, terrorists like Haqqani clan are on top of the CIA hitlist after world’s most wanted man Osama Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Meanwhile, the CIA is now using the services of a private security company to put bombs and missiles on drones being used to hit Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, NYT said. The company given this task is Blackwater, now known as Xe (pronounced Zee) Services, which was earlier hired by the CIA for its secretive (now abandoned) program to locate and assassinate top Al Qaeda operative.

The New York Times Friday said Xe Services contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft. This work was previously performed by CIA employees. They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said, according to the news report.

It is the CIA employees at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, who select the target and pull the trigger. “Only a handful of the agency’s employees actually work at the Predator bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the current and former employees said,” the news report said, adding that Blackwater is not directly involved in it, except that it puts bombs and missiles on the drones.

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