In a significant shift, the U.S. military is assisting the Pakistani army in its offensive on militants in South Waziristan by providing valuable surveillance video and intelligence gleaned from CIA-operated unmanned aircraft, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.
The assistance -- the first time Islamabad has accepted such help -- includes images from armed Predator drones gathering intelligence for the sold purpose of aiding the Pakistani offensive, Defense officials told the newspaper.
Providing the information, while helpful to the Pakistanis, also shows how the Obama administration intends to put pressure on terrorists operating in the region as the White House overhauls its strategy for Afghanistan, officials said.
Recent attacks on Pakistan have rattled the government, likely swaying officials to accept American help in striking the militant stronghold.
On Friday, a homicide bomber struck a checkpoint near a major air force complex in the northwest, killing seven people, the latest in a surge of militant attacks this month.
The attacks have killed more than 170 people and showed the gathering strength of an insurgency that has spread out from border areas and is now firmly allied with other militant groups elsewhere in the nuclear-armed country.
"We are coordinating with the Pakistanis," the Times quoted an unnamed senior U.S. military official as saying. "And we do provide Predator support when requested."
American assistance is considered controversial in Pakistan, which wants to avoid appearing dependent on the U.S. government or military. However, a Pakistani military official confirmed to the Times that the U.S. was helping provide a "composite picture" of the enemy.
"The Pakistanis are getting more and more serious about the militant threat," the source told the newspaper. "You are going to see more sharing as trust develops and assurance develops that they are using the information for effective operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban."
Pakistan, which began its current offensive in South Waziristan seven days ago, is under intense pressure to eliminate Islamist militant groups sheltering in its northwest that also attack U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The military has battled them in various districts, losing hundreds of soldiers, but questions remain about its overall strategic commitment to the fight.
The army has previously moved into South Waziristan three times since 2004. Each time it has suffered high casualties and signed peace deals that left insurgents with effective control of the region. Western officials say Al Qaeda now uses it and neighboring North Waziristan as an operations and training base.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.