Washington, Feb 18(ANI): Critical counter-terrorism efforts by US' Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan's tribal region are apparently being hampered by the country's premier spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which seems to be covertly helping the Haqqani network escape CIA's drone strikes.
The CIA has long used intelligence from the ISI to help identify targets for drone strikes in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but now, as officials on both sides say, it operates largely autonomously, especially since it has been concentrating its fire on the Haqqani militant network in the North Waziristan region, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Faced with pointed questions from lawmakers about strained ties with Pakistan, CIA Director Leon Panetta acknowledged this week that relations between both nations' intelligence agencies were "one of the most complicated" he had ever seen.
While the ISI continued to help America target al Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas, Panetta said that its policies in other areas were in direct conflict with the US, stoking frequent tensions.
The ISI has long nurtured ties with the Haqqani network, which it sees as a strategic asset that can help Islamabad fend off Indian influences in neighbouring Afghanistan, especially as US forces begin troop-withdrawal in July, the report said.
In contrast, Washington sees the Haqqanis, who have been responsible for spectacular attacks in Kabul, as the biggest single threat to Western and Afghan forces, particularly in eastern Afghanistan, it added.
"The [ISI has] no intention of helping the United States degrade the Haqqani network," a US official said.
The CIA has not conducted any drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas since January 23, and while US intelligence officials attribute this drop to bad winter weather, other officials and experts say that the sharp drop in strikes also suggests that the CIA may be having trouble pinpointing new Haqqani targets, either because militants have gone deeper into hiding or have moved to new areas, possibly with the help of ISI, the report said.
The Haqqani network has long used Miranshah as its main base of operations in Pakistan. But US officials and outside experts say there are signs that the group might be moving to Kurram- possibly with the help of ISI agents- making it harder for the CIA to find targets to strike in North Waziristan, it added.
In a clear sign of rising tensions between both intelligence agencies, meetings between ISI and CIA officials- earlier held every ten days or so- have become less frequent, a senior ISI official said.
Also, Pakistan quietly shut down at least two so-called fusion centres last year, which used to bring US and Pakistani military intelligence officials together.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) said that she now sees the CIA-ISI relationship as "something less than wholehearted partnership" because the ISI is "walking both sides of the street." (ANI)