Senator: Drones aircraft based in Pakistan

Feb. 13, 2009 at 7:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Predator planes that launch missile strikes against militants are based in Pakistan, a senior lawmaker said during a Senate hearing.

The disclosure by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is the first time a U.S. official publicly commented on where the drones take off and land in Pakistan, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

"As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base," Feinstein said.

Philip LaVelle, a spokesman for Feinstein, said her comment was based on previous news reports that Predators were operated from bases near Islamabad.

If the pilotless planes are based in Pakistan, it would indicate a much deeper relationship with the United States on counterterrorism matters than the Pakistanis previously admitted, and would be at odds with official protests, the Times said.

The CIA declined to comment, but former U.S. intelligence officials told the Times Feinstein's comment were accurate. Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University said Feinstein's comments could mean trouble for Pakistan's government.

"If accurate, what this says is that Pakistani involvement, or at least acquiescence, has been much more extensive than has previously been known," he said. "It puts the Pakistani government in a far more difficult position (regarding) its credibility with its own people. Unfortunately it also has the potential to threaten Pakistani-American relations."

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