US pushed ahead with drone strikes despite Pakistani resistance

Published: February 23, 2012

Sources say senior US officials telephoned their Pakistani counterparts, said the covert drone program would continue. PHOTO: AFP/ FILE

WASHINGTON: Shortly before the United States ended a two-month pause in missile strikes on militants in Pakistan last month, senior US officials telephoned their Pakistani counterparts and told them Washington would be resuming its covert drone program despite mounting objections in Islamabad.         

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those who spoke with Pakistani officials shortly before the eight-week pause in the drone program ended, sources familiar with the issue said.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his Pakistani counterpart General Ashfaq Kayani around the same time, the sources said, but a US defense official said the two men did not discuss drone strikes.

The strike that followed on January 10, when US aircraft fired missiles at a home in the North Waziristan tribal area, was the first such attack since US aircraft, in a mishap that plunged bilateral ties into a tailspin, killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along remote border with Afghanistan.

The November 26 border incident infuriated a vulnerable government in Islamabad and prompted Pakistani officials to signal, in more emphatic terms than they had previously, that they would no longer accept US drone strikes. That set the Obama administration up for yet another potential collision with Pakistan as it continues a controversial drone program that has become a centerpiece of US efforts to quash militancy there.

The Pakistani border deaths, which Nato deemed an accident and a tragedy, prompted Pakistan to shut down an overland supply route that is key for Nato troops in Afghanistan and to force US personnel off an air base in southwest Pakistan that had been used to launch drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In public, the US missile strikes are a frequent target of criticism for Pakistani politicians, who decry them as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. But in private, Pakistani leaders have long supported and even encouraged the strikes provided they steer clear of certain areas and targets.

Yet even as both governments try to put the relationship back together, current and former US officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the Obama administration will not hesitate to continue the aerial strikes when targets and intelligence are sufficiently compelling.

Trust deficit      

But the US officials also said they are unlikely to give Pakistan advance notice about drone strikes for the time being, given the lack of trust on both sides and what American officials describe as a track record in Pakistan of intelligence leaks allowing militants to get away before planned attacks are launched.

However, drone operators might still use information from Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI to locate targets.

The strikes have become central to President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan, where the United States has failed to persuade Islamabad to take stronger action against militants that have long stoked violence in Afghanistan.

Many US officials complain that messages from Pakistan’s top leadership have been – and continue to be – inconsistent.

There was no immediate comment from the White House or the State Department on the resumption of the strikes.

The strikes may take on additional importance as the United States rushes to make military progress ahead of a looming deadline to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan.

Yet the drone program has also fueled simmering anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, heaping additional pressure on the weak civilian government and even on its powerful military, already buffeted by unusual public criticism after the unilateral US raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year.

Following the November border incident, US officials insisted there was no formal decision to suspend drone strikes.

Other strikes have followed the initial January 10 attack, including several reported to have killed senior militants including some reportedly affiliated with al Qaeda or the Pakistani Taliban.

But US officials acknowledged that the strikes are likely to proceed at a lower rate in the immediate future, in part because of bilateral tensions and in part because launching the flights from neighboring Afghanistan has posed logistical and operational obstacles.

While officials in Islamabad have signalled they are ready to repair ties to a certain extent, the drone strikes will be a major consideration as Pakistani lawmakers conclude a parliamentary review of ties with the United States.

Sherry Rehman, the former information minister and human rights campaigner who last month became Islamabad’s new ambassador to the United States, suggested in her first address in Washington that the review and the low point following the border deaths offered a chance to improve US-Pakistani cooperation.

“Critics of a strong US-Pakistan relationship are questioning its viability in both nations, yet I feel we can use this opportunity to re-set our relationship on a clearer, more stable footing,” she said last week during a speech at the US Institute of Peace.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who will meet Clinton in London on Thursday to try to repair damaged ties, said parliament was looking at “terms of re-engagement.”

Rehman said better communication and more consistent messages from public officials was needed on both sides.

Reader Comments (26)

  • Usman
    Feb 23, 2012 - 9:46AM

    Please not again. We have already lost so many innocent lives.

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  • Akhtar
    Feb 23, 2012 - 9:54AM

    Only Establishment of Islamic caliphate will solve all our problems. The army, politicians, judiciary, beuracracy, are all the Same. We are subservient to capitalism & only HuT can save the Muslims.

    Unite Muslims, unite. Islam comes first, not the country. Establishment of caliphate will unite all Muslims of the world & just imagine the potential of Muslims?

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  • ashok sai
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:12AM

    Resistance means what, a Physical encounter or a warning of retaliation ?

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  • Mard-e-Haq
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:15AM

    I hope the entire Difa-e-Pakistan leadership will form a human shield along North and South Waziristan and other border areas to defend our sacred soil. Only then, will I believe them.

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  • Shyam
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:18AM

    But didn’t General Kayani say he will shoot down the drones. You can talk the walk, but can you walk the talk

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  • John B
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:47AM

    “If there are actionable intelligence in Pakistan side and if PAK is unable or unwilling to act upon them, then US will not hesitate to act upon those perpetrators”

    I think US has kept her words and if one reads in-between the lines of the news coming out of Pakistan, the PAK army is in full support of drone, while the PAK civilian govt is not or is wavering whichever the side the wind blows.

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  • John B
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:18AM

    @Akhtar:
    The world had caliphate once and saw what it did to the world. Stop living in the past, and live the future.

    If you dream of caliphate, first learn to live in peace with your own neighbors in PAK without bombing each others mosque.

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  • Ghaznavi
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:22AM

    Drone strikes are illegal and against all norms of international law and human rights. Moreover they are counterproductive, they are creating more terrorists than those killed by this campaign. The sooner US comes to its senses, the better.

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  • anoni
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:28PM

    No trial for those killed is just like summery execution by the Nazi’s in WWII. Guess history repeat itself . Only method is different

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  • gp65
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:29PM

    @John B: “if one reads in-between the lines of the news coming out of Pakistan, the PAK army is in full support of drone,”

    PArtially true because they want security aid to continue. What would make it completely true is if the following condition was added to that statement ” as long as it the target is TTP and not the Haqqanis or Members o Quetta Shura”

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  • Munda Baloch
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:45PM

    Us will push many things in near future . just wait and watch :)

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  • Syed
    Feb 23, 2012 - 1:01PM

    @Akhtar

    I totally AGREE with you..

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  • antony
    Feb 23, 2012 - 1:03PM

    @akthar, Unite meaning take all the muslims from Pakistan /India/Srilanka /Europe /China /Russia and put inside Saudi Arabia? . Can you first Unite Iran and Saudi arabia first as both are considered muslims by outside world but still they are have immense rivalry whispering to their american or russian/chinese friends?

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  • HollyCow
    Feb 23, 2012 - 1:28PM

    @Ahktar the potential of the Islamic world? The entire combined GDP would be less Han one industrialized western country. The west looks forward. You look backwards. That’s your biggest tragedy.

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  • Nasir
    Feb 23, 2012 - 1:50PM

    THANK YOU America for doing the job we are to scared to do for ourselves – please increase your strikes to cover the inner cities as well were many terrorists and banned outfits operate without any fear

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  • Nirmit
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:05PM

    @Akhtar:
    and what about the collective stupidity!!! why do you assume that if you come together you will only share the potential and not the idiocity…..any logic!!! Also note that, history stands witness that your Khalifate has been distroyed and made into the pieces……you would never be able to join these pieces together…..Also note, when you come together it will be a reason for the remaining to get together and you know for sure you will look very miniscule against their moral, economic, political, technological power……so stop dreaming.

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  • Genius
    Feb 23, 2012 - 4:04PM

    The last two remaining critics of Washington/Tel Aviv imperialism were removed from the mainstream media.
    Read all at : http://www.iraqwar.mirror-world.ru/article/266200

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  • Feb 23, 2012 - 4:13PM

    Shame on the defenders of our sovereignty

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  • P N Eswaran
    Feb 23, 2012 - 4:27PM

    The Americans are still courteous to inform Pakistan that they would continue with the Drones strike. Next what is anybody’s guess.

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  • sashayub
    Feb 23, 2012 - 4:32PM

    what pakistani resistence are they talking about??? just blah blah is not real resistence, is it?

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  • Cautious
    Feb 23, 2012 - 7:40PM

    @Akhtar. I guess you don’t keep up with the news – the biggest enemies of Muslims have/are Muslims. The caliphate and ummah mantra comes from people who continue to blame the Worlds problems on others – time to look in the mirror.

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  • Jat
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:13PM

    These americans are asking for trouble ! Now they will face the full fury of Difa-e-Pakistan. It will be interesting to see what technical, military and moral means Difa-e-Pakistan will employ to stop the drones.

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  • Kamalhai
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:43PM

    Lame Duck Leadership . . .watching the destruction. What have they done for the people of Pakistan and their livelihood? ZERO . . .minus Zero

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  • Akthar
    Feb 23, 2012 - 9:26PM

    @John/Antony/HollyCow By your names, you sound like christian & therefore dont understand what Islam stands for or its values. Dont understand the Islamic World. Theres a wealth of Oil and it can regulate the world. The price we can demand is whats the GDP and we can control the world. Also, Muslims with its 100s of nukes can prove to be a big force the world has to fear. Also, we can easily put pressure on every country where there is oppression on Muslims. All occupied muslim lands like Chechniya, Xinjiang, Philippines, etc will be free.

    Recommend

  • G. Din
    Feb 24, 2012 - 2:07AM

    @Akhtar:
    “Unite Muslims, unite. “
    Yes, unite, Muslims, unite so you present yourself as a nice and clean target, so that all confusion about terrorist Muslims, radical Muslims and moderate Muslims is erased and the world can unite once again in the name of annihilating fascism!

    Recommend

  • Ghumman
    Feb 24, 2012 - 2:09AM

    @John B “Actionable Intelligence is Horse…..” there were WMD in IRAQ? that was actionable intelligence? I denounce all terrorist acts against any human being including drone strikes. they bread more TerroristsRecommend

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