US scales back drone attacks in Pakistan: Report

US tightens up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, senior US officials claim.

Web Desk July 26, 2013

ISLAMABAD: The United States has drastically scaled back the number of drone attacks against militants in Pakistan and limited strikes to high-value targets in response to growing criticism of the program in the country, The Associated Press (AP) reported

According to the report, the reduction in strikes has “temporarily appeased Pakistan’s powerful generals but some US officials are still worried about push back from the new government which wants to end the attacks altogether.”

US officials have stressed that the CIA will maintain a significant presence in Kabul and armed drones will continue to patrol Pakistan’s tribal belt after US withdrawal from Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported.

The CIA’s drone campaign will likely be a key item on the agenda during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Pakistan, which is expected soon.

The AP report – quoting data from a US-based think-tank – stated that only 16 drone strikes took place in Pakistan so far this year, compared with a peak of 122 in 2010, 73 in 2011 and 48 in 2012.

Current and former US intelligence officials said the “CIA was instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called “signature strikes” — hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behaviour, such as being armed and meeting with known militants.”

The report further mentioned two other senior American officials as saying: “The US scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.”

Senior Pakistani army officers made it clear that the program could not continue at the tempo it was being carried out and expressed concern that civilian casualties were breeding more militants, said the US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.

Senior US officials insist they continue to have a secret agreement with Pakistan, or at least from the army, to conduct drone strikes.