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CIA seeks expansion in drone fleet

20 October, 2012

WASHINGTON: The CIA is urging the White House to approve significant expansion of its fleet of armed drones that the agency uses to target suspected militant targets, according to The Washington Post on Friday.

A report in the newspaper said the move would extend the spy service's decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force. The report, which cites unnamed US officials, says the proposal by the Central Intelligence Agency Director David H Petraeus would bolster the agency's ability to sustain its campaigns of lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. If approved, the CIA could add as many as 10 drones, the officials said, to an inventory that has ranged between 30 and 35 over the past few years, The Post said.

"The outcome has broad implications for counterterrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to an organisation focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorism suspects abroad," the newspaper noted. A White House panel, known as the Counterterrorism Security Group, headed by President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John O Brennan, is evaluating the proposal.

A US official told the Post that the request reflects a concern that political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa has created new openings for al Qaeda and its affiliates. "With what happened in Libya, we're realising that these places are going to heat up," the official said, referring to the September 11 attack on a US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. No decisions have been made about moving armed CIA drones into these regions, but officials have begun to map out contingencies.

Meanwhile, the number of strikes in Pakistan has dropped from 122 two years ago to 40 this year, according to the New America Foundation. But officials said the agency has not cut back on its patrols there, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden and a dwindling number of targets.

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