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US seeking dramatically expanding CIA 'ground forces' in Pak: Report

By Nairita Das

Washington, Oct 23 (ANI): The United States is reportedly pushing for the expansion of a secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) effort to help Pakistan target militants in their havens near the Afghan border, as the White House seeks new ways to prod Islamabad into more aggressive action against Al Qaeda and its allied groups, according to senior officials.

The push comes at a time when relations between Washington and Islamabad have soured over the US impatience with the slow pace of Pakistani strikes against militants who routinely attack US-led troops in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

While the US asked Pakistan in recent weeks to allow additional CIA officers and special operations military trainers to enter the country as part of Washington's efforts to intensify pressure on militants, Islamabad has so far rebuffed its requests, as it is extremely wary of allowing a larger US ground presence in the country, illustrating the precarious nature of relations between Washington and its wartime ally.

It is noteworthy that the number of CIA personnel in Pakistan has grown substantially in recent years. The push for more forces reflects, in part, the increased need for intelligence to support the CIA drone program that has killed hundreds of militants with its drone strikes. The additional officers could help Pakistani forces reach targets where drones cannot, the paper said.

A senior Pakistani official said that although relations with the CIA remain strong, Islamabad continues to oppose a large increase in the number of American personnel on the ground.

Some US officials, however, remain hopeful that Islamabad will allow a greater covert presence that could include CIA paramilitary forces, it added.

Given Pakistan's objections to US ground troops, using more CIA paramilitary forces could be a "viable option," said a government official, adding, "That gives them (Pakistanis) a little bit of cover."

The Obama administration has been ramping up pressure on Islamabad in recent weeks to attack militants after months of publicly praising Pakistani efforts. The CIA has intensified drone strikes in Pakistan, and the military in Afghanistan has carried out cross-border air raids, underlining US doubts over whether Islamabad can be relied upon to be more aggressive, the paper said.

Meanwhile, US military forces on the ground remain a red line for Islamabad. A senior Pakistani official said if the country's public became aware of American forces conducting combat operations on Pakistani territory, it would wipe out popular support for fighting the militants in the tribal areas. Whether covert CIA forces would cross that line, however, remains an open question. (ANI)

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