WASHINGTON: A regular US air force unit based in the Nevada desert is responsible for flying the CIA's drone strike programme in Pakistan, citing a documentary ARY News reported.
The new documentary to be released on Tuesday identifies the unit conducting CIA strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas as the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates from a secure compound in a corner of Creech air force base, 45 miles from Las Vegas in the Mojave desert.
Several former drone operators have claimed that the unit's conventional air force personnel – rather than civilian contractors – have been flying the CIA's heavily armed Predator missions in Pakistan, a 10-year campaign which according to some estimates has killed more than 2,400 people.
The role of the squadron, and the use of its regular air force personnel in the CIA's targeted killing programme, first emerged during interviews with two former special forces drone operators for a new documentary film, Drone.
Brandon Bryant, a former US Predator operator, told the film he decided to speak out after senior officials in the Obama administration gave a briefing last year in which they said they wanted to "transfer" control of the CIA's secret drones programme to the military.
Bryant said this was disingenuous because it was widely known in military circles that the US air force was already involved.
"The CIA might be the customer but the air force has always flown it. A CIA label is just an excuse to not have to give up any information. That is all it has ever been."