Pakistan continues to provide air space to the US

By Haneen Abbas

Islamabad:

A senior Pentagon official has informed Congress that Pakistan continues to give the United States access to its airspace and the two sides are also talking about keeping that access open.

According to a story published by Dawn, US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl shared this information with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday during an open/closed hearing on “Security in Afghanistan and in the regions of South and Central Asia”.

He was replying to a question from the committee’s chairman Senator Jack Reed, who asked him to update the panel on “our arrangement with Pakistan regarding their cooperation with us in counterterrorism”. The senator referred to recent press reports claiming that Pakistan was working with the Taliban to attack the militant Islamic State group.

“Pakistan is a challenging actor, but they don’t want Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorist attacks, external attacks, not just against Pakistan but against others” as well, Dr Kahl told the open session. “They continue to give us access to Pakistani airspace and we are in conversation about keeping that access open.”

Reportedly, Pakistan and USA are negotiating a deal which allows the US to use Pakistan’s air bases to carry out counter intellegence operations in Afghanistan.

The rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating intense pressure on the C.I.A. to find new ways to gather intelligence and carry out counterterrorism strikes in the country, but the agency has few good options.

The C.I.A., which has been at the heart of the 20-year American presence in Afghanistan, has lost air bases in the country from where it had been running combat missions and drone strikes while closely monitoring the Taliban and other groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The C.I.A. used a base there for years to launch drone strikes against militants in the country’s western mountains, but was kicked out of the facility in 2011, when U.S. relations with Pakistan unraveled.

Any deal now would have to work around the uncomfortable reality that Pakistan’s government has long supported the Taliban. In discussions between American and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the C.I.A. or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan, according to three Americans familiar with the discussions.

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