WASHINGTON - The White House has authorized the CIA to expand the use of unmanned aerial drones in Pakistan to track down and strike suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda members, the New York Times reported Friday.
The Times, citing unnamed sources, said that authorization to expand CIA drone usage in Pakistan's tribal areas came this week, coinciding with President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday of sending 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
Washington is also talking with Pakistani officials about using the drones to strike in Baluchistan -- a vast region outside of the tribal areas that borders Afghanistan and Iran -- where Afghan Taliban leaders are reportedly hiding, the Times reported.
Analysts, intelligence agents and foreign officials have widely reported that Taliban fighters use Baluchistan as a base, crossing over the border into Afghanistan to and from the Taliban's spiritual capital of Kandahar.
The northwest Pakistan tribal region has seen a surge in the US strikes, which fan anti-Americanism in the nuclear-armed Muslim country, since Obama took office.
While the drone program began under former president George W. Bush, the Obama administration has continued and expanded it.
Drones, usually armed with Hellfire missiles, are launched in the region and frequently controlled remotely from sites in the United States.
As a rule, the US military does not confirm drone attacks, which US officials say have killed a number of top-level militants.
Islamabad publicly opposes their use as a violation of its sovereignty, but analysts say that Pakistani officials give their use tacit support.
Criticism of the strikes in Pakistan has lessened in public since a US drone attack killed Pakistan's much-feared Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud on August 5.
In late October, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston said that drone usage could be breaking international laws.
"The onus is really on the United States government to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary extrajudicial executions aren't in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons," he added.
Alston said he had presented a report on the matter to the UN General Assembly.
Since August 2008, at least 65 such strikes have killed around 625 people, although it is difficult to confirm the precise identity of many of those who die given that the remote regions targeted are largely closed to outsiders.