'Pak army followed a duplicitous policy on drone strikes'

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Islamabad, May 20: The Pakistani army followed a "duplicitous policy" over the US drone strikes, as secret US cables released by WikiLeaks reveal that it had requested Washington for greater drone back-up for its own military operations along Afghan border despite public posturing against it.

The cables provide confirmation that the US military's drone programme within Pakistan had "more than just tacit acceptance of the country's top military brass, despite public posturing to the contrary", the Dawn newspaper reported today.

Diplomatic cables previously exposed by WikiLeaks showed that Pakistan's civilian leaders were supportive in private of the drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) even as they condemned them in public.

However, it was not just the civilian leadership that has been following a "duplicitous policy" on the unmanned spy planes, the report said.

In a meeting on January 22, 2008 with US Central Command chief Admiral William J Fallon, Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani requested the Americans to provide "continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area" in South Waziristan where his force was conducting operations against militants.

The request was detailed in a cable sent by then US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 11, 2008.

Pakistan's military has consistently denied any involvement in the covert drone programme run by the CIA. The US cable did not make if Kayani was seeking aerial surveillance or missile-armed drones.

According to the cable, Fallon "regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request" but offered trained US Marines to coordinate air strikes for Pakistani infantry forces on the ground.

Kayani "demurred" on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground "would not be politically acceptable."

In another meeting with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen during March 3-4, 2008, Kayani was asked for his help "in approving a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA."

The request, detailed in a cable sent from the US Embassy in Islamabad on March 24, 2008, clearly indicated that two "corridors" for US drones had been approved earlier.

In another cable sent on October 9, 2009, Ambassador Patterson reports the US military support to the Pakistan Army's 11th Corps' operations in South Waziristan would "be at the division-level and would include a live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video".

PTI

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