The CIA is using an arsenal of armed drones and other equipment provided by the US military to secretly escalate its operations in Pakistan by striking targets beyond the reach of American forces in Afghanistan, US officials said.
The merging of covert CIA operations and military firepower is part of a high-stakes attempt by the Obama administration to deal decisive blows to Taliban insurgents who have regained control of territory in Afghanistan but stage most of their operations from sanctuaries across that country's eastern border.
The move represents a signification evolution of an already controversial targeted killing program run by the CIA. The agency's drone program began as a sporadic effort to kill members of the al-Qaeda network, but in the past month it has been delivering what amounts to a cross-border bombing campaign in coordination with conventional military operations a few miles away.
The campaign continued amid reports that two new CIA drone strikes had killed 16 militants in northwest Pakistan, following 22 such attacks last month.
The strategy shift carries risks, particularly if it is perceived as an end run around the Pakistan government's long-standing objections to American military operations within its domain.
The surge in drone strikes over the past four weeks has to a large extent targeted elements of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant regarded a close ally of Pakistan's powerful ISI directorate.
Officials said last week that some of the recent strikes have also been aimed at disrupting al-Qaeda terror plots targeting Europe.
The US military quietly has been providing Predator and Reaper drones, as well as other weaponry, to the CIA in an effort to give the agency more capacity to carry out lethal strikes in Pakistan, American officials said.
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