US special forces were embedded with Pakistani troops on -intelligence-gathering missions by the summer of 2009, confidential US diplomatic cables showed, a revelation that could hurt the Pakistani military’s public image.
The disclosure comes a day after another set of cables showed that Pakistan’s powerful army chief not only tacitly agreed to the covert US drone campaign against militants, but asked for “continuous Predator coverage” of the tribal areas by these aircraft. The army denied the contents.
The local Dawn newspaper, which said it obtained the secret dispatches from WikiLeaks, said they reveal that US special operations forces were deployed with Pakistani troops in joint operations in Pakistan by September of 2009.
“Through these embeds, we are assisting the Pakistanis collect and coordinate existing intelligence assets,” the cables quoted then-US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson as saying.
Pakistan’s powerful military faced rare criticism after a secret US special forces raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden not far from the capital Islamabad this month.
The infuriated army said the assault, which has severely strained ties between the two countries, was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. However, Pakistanis lashed out at the country’s generals because they did not know about the raid.
By September 2009, plans for the joint intelligence activities had been expanded to include army headquarters, according to the cables.
“Pakistan has begun to accept intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support from the US military for COIN [counterinsurgency] operations,” Patterson wrote. “In addition, intelligence fusion centers” had been established “at the headquarters of Frontier Corps and the 11th Corps and we expect at additional sites, including GHQ and the 12th Corps in Balochistan.”
Pakistani military officials were not immediately available for comment on the cables.
The presence of US trainers in Pakistan has been publicly acknowledged, but such joint operations have not.
Anti-US sentiment runs high in Pakistan, partly because of US drone aircraft strikes on militants, which are seen as a violation of sovereignty and have killed civilians.
According to cables released by WikiLeaks by Friday, Pakistan’s chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani asked Admiral William J. Fallon, then commander of US Central Command, for increased surveillance and round-the-clock Predator coverage over North and South Waziristan, strongholds for Taliban militants.
The Pakistan Army denied the contents of those cables.