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US embassy cables released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks reveal that teams of US special forces have been secretly working with Pakistan military in the tribal areas, the Guardian said.
Small US special forces teams helped hunt down Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and co-ordinate drone strikes, American cables revealed.
They pointed out that the number of soldiers involved was limited to just 16 in October 2009 -- but the deployment is of immense political significance.
The first special forces team of four soldiers was deployed at an old British colonial fort in the northern half of the tribal belt in September 2009, so as to help Frontier Corps paramilitaries to carry out artillery strikes on a militant base, one of the leaked US cables revealed.
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A month later, two more teams of six soldiers each were deployed at Pakistani army bases in North and South Waziristan, a lawless warren of mountains considered to be the global headquarters of Al Qaeda, it said.
Their job was to provide "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance" support, "general operational advice" and to help set up a live satellite feed from American drones flying overhead.
American officials, who had long been pushing for such a deployment in the face of "adamant" Pakistani opposition, were jubilant, viewing it as a sign of growing trust in an often-troubled relationship, the cable said.
"The developments of the past two months thus appear to represent a sea change in [the military's] thinking," read one of the cables.
American special forces had been deployed in Pakistan since 2008 but were limited to a training role, it noted.
Permission for the active combat deployment "almost certainly" came with the personal consent of Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, another cable read.
"Patient relationship-building with the military is the key factor that has brought us to this point. The Pakistanis are increasingly confident that we do not have ulterior motives in assisting their operations," according to the cable.
Participation of American soldiers in combat operations in the tribal campaign has never been publicly acknowledged due to its extreme political sensitivity in a country seething with anti-US sentiment, it further noted.
In the cables, Pakistan bureaucrats have been shown as supporting the drone attacks, viewing them as a solution to a problem.
Speaking in an "unofficial capacity" last year, a senior tribal area official in Peshawar told US officials that "he and many others could accept Predator strikes as they were surgical and clearly hitting high value targets".
Most local people did not fear the strikes because "everyone knew that they only hit the house or location of very bad people", he said.