Washington: The US is pushing to expand the presence of its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers in Pakistan in order to help Islamabad target the safe havens of al Qaeda and other militants more aggressively, a media report said.
The push comes as the White House seeks ways to prod Islamabad into more aggressive action against groups allied with the al Qaeda hiding in safe havens near the Afghan border, The Wall Street Journal said quoting senior government officials.
The US has asked Pakistan to allow additional CIA officers and special military trainers to enter the country as part of efforts to intensify pressure on militants. The requests have so far been rebuffed by Islamabad.
There are currently about 900 US military personnel in Pakistan, 600 of which are providing flood relief and 150 of which are assigned to the training mission.
The push for more forces reflects, in part, the increased need for intelligence to support the CIA`s drone programme that has killed hundreds of militants with missile strikes. The additional officers could help Pakistani forces reach targets drones can`t.
Officials have even said they were going to stop asking for Pakistani help with the US` most difficult adversary in the region, the North Waziristan-based Haqqani network, because it was unproductive, the report said.
The current efforts to expand CIA presence are meant to expand intelligence collection and facilitate more aggressive Pakistani-led actions on the ground. Some US officials remain hopeful that Islamabad will allow a greater covert presence that could include CIA paramilitary forces.
Given Pakistan`s objections to US ground troops, using more CIA paramilitary forces could be a "viable option", said a government official. "That gives them a little bit of cover," the official added, referring to the Pakistanis.
US officials also said a stronger US-Pakistan intelligence partnership would not be a substitute for closer working relationship with the military`s special operation forces.
While the Obama administration has been focused on North Waziristan, officials said there is a need for Pakistani operations in the southern city of Quetta and the surrounding province of Baluchistan.
The Pakistani government has in the past used its control over visas to express displeasure with US policy and limit the number of Americans who can work in the country.
A senior Pakistani official said if the Pakistani public became aware of US military 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.