Washington: Apparently buoyed by its high strike rate on terror, the US spy agency CIA is seeking to expand its drone fleet to sustain the lethal campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa.
CIA has sought approval from the White House for the move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, The Washington Post reported quoting US officials. The bolstering of CIA’s armed and stealth drone fleet comes as officials said that the agency was continuing to search for Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri and
the top rungs of the Haqqani network in Pakistan. The proposal by CIA Director David Petraeus if approved could add as many as 10 drones, the officials said, to CIA inventory that has ranged between 30 and 35 over the past few years.
Officials said the outcome has broad implications for counter-terrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to being an organisation focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorists abroad.
The Post said that it was shortage of drones which had forced CIA chief to shift drones from Pakistan to Yemen to hunt for Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric linked to al-Qaeda who was killed in a drone strike. But once the prized militant was killed CIA shifted the drones back to Pakistan, with officials pointing out that there was no cut back on drone patrols in Pakistan, despite the killing of bin Laden and dwindling number of targets. The expansion, the officials said, would enable the spy agency if directed, to shift aircraft to emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa or other trouble spots.