Pilotless Predators: US pushed ahead with strikes despite Pakistan resistance

Published: February 24, 2012

Officials say US will not hesitate to continue drone strikes. 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 counterparts in Pakistan and told them Washington would be resuming its covert drone programme despite mounting objections in Islamabad.

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

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to General Ashfaq Kayani around the same time, the sources said, but a US defence 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 North Waziristan was the first such attack since Nato aircraft, in a mishap that plunged bilateral ties into a tailspin, killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.

The 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 Shamsi air base that had been used to launch drone strikes in the tribal areas.

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

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 the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency 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 the top leadership in Pakistan 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. 

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2012. 

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