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Guess who loads missiles on US drones in Pakistan

Source: PTI
August 21, 2009 11:24 IST
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US Central Intelligence Agency has hired contractors from a private security firm for the job of loading bombs and missiles on drones to hit Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a work previously done by the agency's workers, a media report said on Friday.

The job was assigned to Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, the company whose operations in Iraq had come under intense scrutiny. CIA earlier hired it for its secret (now abandoned) programme to eliminate top Al Qaeda leaders.

Contractors of Xe Services assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely-piloted Predator aircraft at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a work which was previously performed by CIA employees, The New York Times said quoting officials.

"They also provide security at the covert bases," it said, adding that the role of the private firm in the Predator programme highlights the extent to which the CIA depends on "outsiders" for some of its most important functions.

According to the report, the CIA has now opened a second drone base in Jalalabad in Afghanistan, besides its original one in Shamsi, Pakistan. This is primarily because of the opposition from Pakistan in recent months.

"Officials said the CIA now conducted most of its Predator missile and bomb strikes on targets in the fghanistan-Pakistan border region from the Jalalabad base, with drones landing or taking off almost hourly," The New York Times said.

"The base in Pakistan is still in use. But officials said the US decided to open the Afghanistan operation in part because of the possibility that the Pakistani government, facing growing anti-American sentiment at home, might force the CIA to close the one in Pakistan," the paper said.

It is the CIA employees at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, who select the target and pull the trigger.

"Only a handful of the agency's employees actually work at the Predator bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the current and former employees said," the news report said, adding that Blackwater is not directly involved in it, except that it puts bombs and missiles on the drones.

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