CIA will continue drone operations in Pakistan for now: Sources

Published: May 21, 2013
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A file photo of a drone. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

A file photo of a drone. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

WASHINGTON: US drone strikes in Pakistan would continue to be conducted by the CIA for the time-being to keep the program covert and maintain deniability for both the United States and Pakistan, several US government sources said on Monday.

The sources added that US President Barack Obama’s administration has decided to give the Pentagon control of some drone operations against terrorism suspects overseas that are currently run by the CIA.

Four US government sources told Reuters that the decision had been made to shift the CIA’s drone operations to the Pentagon, and some of them said it would occur in stages.

Drone strikes in Yemen, where the US military already conducts operations with Yemeni forces, would be run by the armed forces, officials said.

However, the administration’s goal would be to transfer the Pakistan drone operations to the military, one US official said on condition of anonymity.

The internal debate within the administration about whether to switch control of drone strikes to the military has been going on for months. Obama is under heightened pressure to show that his administration is transparent, after a series of scandals about civil liberties and allegations of government overreach broke last week.

Obama will make a speech on Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington that will include discussion of the government’s use of drones as a counterterrorism tool. It is unclear whether he will announce the drone program shift in that speech or separately.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson and a CIA spokesperson each declined comment.

Decision after months of debate

One of the reasons to make the shift is that it would help the CIA to return to more traditional spying operations and intelligence analysis, rather than paramilitary operations involving killing terrorism targets, officials have said.

The US military is not engaged in ground combat in Pakistan, where the population in tribal areas has been angered by drone strikes and governments do not want to acknowledge that they allow US unmanned aircraft to operate.

But in Yemen, the same sensitivities do not exist because the US military is working with Yemeni forces in counterterrorism operations and so drone strikes in Yemen will shift to the Pentagon, two sources said.

There have been 355 drone strikes in Pakistan and 66 in Yemen, according to a widely cited drone attack database run by the New America Foundation think tank.

The United States has also carried out drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and East Africa, some of them operated by the military.

The use of armed drones jumped in 2008 when President George W Bush authorised the use of “signature” strikes, allowing the targeting of terrorism suspects based on behaviour and other characteristics without knowing the targets’ identities.

Rosa Brooks, a New America Foundation fellow and Georgetown University law professor, said the problem with the targeted killing program was “an assertion by the executive branch that it has this essentially unconstrained and unreviewable power to kill people.”

Brooks, who previously served at the Pentagon, said she hoped that Obama would publicly release the legal justifications and analysis for the targeted killings overseas, including of US citizens.

“I would also like to see the president say that we will acknowledge all strikes, that we will publicly report on identities of who was targeted, at least after the fact,” she said.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Tao
    May 21, 2013 - 2:39PM

    Making this public means to sabotage the efforts of newly elected govt in Pakistan, who is more than willing to reach to a dialogue with Taliban. In this context, drone strikes would be the first thing taliban would like to see off to gain confidence in the newly elected govt. But there you go, US would never let that happen.

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  • Gulam Rasool "Kuldeep sharma"
    May 21, 2013 - 2:57PM

    Pakistan seems to be helpless aginst USA

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  • Khadim Karrar
    May 21, 2013 - 3:03PM

    In the best interests of US-Pak amity and understanding it might have been better to halt the drone attacks up until a new understanding could be reached with the government in offing or other alternatives might be agreed upon.

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  • Hasan Hasni
    May 21, 2013 - 3:11PM

    How can we stand up while begging. Nothing will change unless until we pay taxes and our goverments will become custodian not robbers

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  • Rex Minor
    May 21, 2013 - 3:14PM

    @Gulam Rasool “Kuldeep sharma”:

    Pakistan Government will follow its manifesto and will have no other choice but to reduce the ambassadorial exchange to the council level, being the first diplomatic response and revision of Foreign policy.

    Rex Minor

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  • Abbas
    May 21, 2013 - 3:23PM

    could we relate drone attack with irani gas pipe line . if we come out from gas pipe line , drone atfack will stop.

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  • faraz
    May 21, 2013 - 3:45PM

    First get control of FATA, then talk of preventing drones

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  • Treason
    May 21, 2013 - 4:35PM

    Mr Perveez Musharaf should be tried in Court for treason based on the fact that he signed the paper alowing a foreign country to administer attack on his own country.

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  • ahmer
    May 21, 2013 - 4:50PM

    to get rid of drone strikes get rid of your strategic depth. meaning stop supporting all these jihadis

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  • Mirza
    May 21, 2013 - 6:15PM

    All these public announcements are coming in at a time when there is a “neutral caretaker” govt. Now this is established once again that drone strikes would continue the same way the new govt is not going to be blamed! This is to protect the new govt from the blame that they did not start drone strikes and it was already decided. Only a week ago a high US official told the senate that the drone strikes would continue till after Obama’s term and perhaps for next 20 years.
    Drone strikes are not for or against any country but against the killer terrorists that are out of control and violate every law in the world including Pakistani sovereignty. Love it or hate it this is the only effective way to deal with these stateless terrorists with more than 60 thousand murders of Pakistanis. In dozens of drone strikes during the five years period, none of the Pakistani army men, official building, or any assets were hit only terrorists are targeted. On the other hand terrorists only target civilians to cause max damage to Pakistanis.

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  • Shah (Berlin)
    May 21, 2013 - 7:23PM

    @Treason:

    lolzz…and you seen that paper…and if its treason that why doesnt the elected governement declares it as an illegal document as it was signed under a Dictator…..

    Please dont give useless comments…!!!!

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  • np
    May 21, 2013 - 7:42PM

    @Rex Minor: “Pakistan Government will follow its manifesto and will have no other choice but to reduce the ambassadorial exchange to the council level”

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  • np
    May 21, 2013 - 7:43PM

    @Rex Minor: “Pakistan Government will follow its manifesto and will have no other choice but to reduce the ambassadorial exchange to the council level”

    Dreams are free. Keep on dreaming.

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  • Touseef Ahmed
    May 21, 2013 - 7:48PM

    Govt of Pakistan and its army standing on the different sides of the fence. one of the big challenges for new govt

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  • gp65
    May 21, 2013 - 8:08PM

    @Khadim Karrar: “In the best interests of US-Pak amity and understanding it might have been better to halt the drone attacks up until a new understanding could be reached with the government in offing or other alternatives might be agreed upon.”

    International relations do not work that way. Existing agreements have to honoured until a revised mutually acceptable agreement can be arrived at. Agreements are not suspended the moment a party in power changes because the agreements are between 2 sovereign nations not between the parties in power on both sides.

    In any case if drones stopped do you think the outrage manufacturing industry will stop? Were there drones in 1980s? US flags were still being burnt were they not?

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  • Humayun
    May 22, 2013 - 5:33AM

    Counter productive strikes on Pakistan’s sovereignity. Hit and Run approach of opportunitst exploiter US towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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