Washington: An Afghan paramilitary force with a strength of 3,000 well-armed troops, collectively known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, has been trained and deployed in Afghanistan not only for surveillance, raids and combat operations in Afghanistan, but also for the United States` secret war in Pakistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda, according to current and former US officials.
While the existence of these teams is disclosed in `Obama`s Wars`, a forthcoming book by famed journalist Bob Woodward, interviews with sources familiar with the CIA`s operations, as well as a review of the database of 76,000 classified US military field reports posted online last month by the WikiLeaks website, reveal an agency that has a significantly larger covert paramilitary presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan than previously known, the Washington Post reported.
The operations are particularly sensitive in Pakistan, a refuge for senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, where US units are officially prohibited from carrying out missions.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a US official described them as "one of the best Afghan fighting forces”, adding, "it`s made major contributions to stability and security”.
The teams` primary mission was to improve security in Afghanistan and that they did not engage in "lethal action" when crossing into Pakistan, as their cross-border missions were "designed exclusively for intelligence collection”, the official added.
The CIA has also used Af-Pak border bases to build and manage networks of ethnic Pashtun informants, who cross into Pakistan`s tribal belt.
In combination with near-constant surveillance from US drone aircraft in the skies, the informants have enabled the CIA to identify the whereabouts of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, which has led to an exponential rise in drone attacks.
According to statistics compiled by the New America Foundation, the CIA has carried out 71 drone strikes in Pakistani territory this year, more than double the number for all of 2008.
However, the CIA declined to comment on the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, while a Pakistani official said that the government would not comment on Woodward`s book until it was released.