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Stepped-up U.S. operations in Pakistan taking serious toll on Al Qaeda, CIA chief says

The stepped-up pace of CIA operations in Pakistan “is taking a serious toll” on Al Qaeda’s operational abilities, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said Tuesday.

Panetta did not specifically mention missile strikes by unmanned drones in Pakistan because the U.S. government does not officially acknowledge the program. But it is well known that drones are the main tool the CIA uses to target militants in the country.

“The basis for that increased pace is intelligence, weather and also just the threat streams we’re getting on potential attacks in Europe,” Panetta said.

In addition, the CIA is going after the Haqqani network, a group of Pakistani militants that attacks U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he said.

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There have been 89 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, up from 53 in all of 2009, according to the New America Foundation, which counts them using Pakistani media and other reports.

The exact number and identities of casualties from drone strikes are unknown because the attacks take place in remote areas where verification by Western news agencies is extremely difficult.

The CIA has been able to increase the pace because of “additional capabilities,” Panetta said, meaning “more hardware. The president’s been very supportive, obviously, of this operation.”

He said the Pakistani intelligence service “has been very cooperative.”

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But the CIA chief said it was unclear whether operations in Pakistan had thwarted a potential plot against Europe.

Panetta said last year that strikes in Pakistan are “very precise” and “very limited in terms of collateral damage.”

“Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the Al Qaeda leadership,” Panetta told the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles.

ken.dilanian@latimes.com


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