Crucial to the surveillance of Bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad was the use of an RQ-170 drone. Pakistani officials talked openly in the weeks after that raid about their fear that the unmanned aircraft was also being used to monitor their nuclear arsenal, now believed to be the fastest growing in the world. The raid, and those drones, came out of American facilities just over the Afghan border.
“You hear about the president’s decision of the ‘zero option’ in the context of the future of Afghanistan, but this is really more about Pakistan,” said one former senior intelligence official who has consulted with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about the problem. “That’s where the biggest problem is.”
The C.I.A.’s drone bases in Afghanistan, including one in the eastern part of the country, allow operators to respond quickly to fresh intelligence. The proximity to Pakistan’s tribal areas also allows the Predator drones and their larger, faster cousin, the Reaper, to fly longer missions without having to return to base.
“There certainly is an interdependence between the military and the intelligence community in Afghanistan,” one senior administration official said.