The U.S. is reportedly on yet another drone hiatus, limiting its strikes in Pakistan while the government there attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.
A U.S. administration official told The Washington Post the Pakistani government asked for the break, adding that the U.S. "didn’t tell them no.” U.S. drones will continue to conduct limited strikes if intelligence locates a senior al-Qaida target, the official said, or if a strike can prevent a direct threat against Americans.
The public relationship between the two governments has been on rocky footing in recent years, largely due to populist outrage in Pakistan over the sweeping U.S. drone program. The strikes became a central talking point of the Pakistani election in May, particularly for cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, who regularly threatens to call upon supporters in the tribal northern reaches of the country to shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. has said previously that the strikes represent a “red line” for the Islamic nation.
The Pakistani government also did not appear to have any forewarning of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
Yet CIA documents obtained by The Washington Post and released in October say that Pakistan has known about U.S. strikes on its soil, and perhaps has been complicit in planning some of them.
Wednesday’s report would not mark the first time the U.S. supposedly has withheld strikes to support Pakistani political concerns. No drone strikes occurred from April 17 through last year’s election in Pakistan, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal.
Drone strike expert Karl Kaltenthaler, a professor at the University of Akron, said every drone strike “is a little bit of gasoline on the fire” for the Pakistani public, adding the lull last year was likely due to concerns that the political blowback would spiral out of control.
The Long War Journal has not yet recorded any drone strikes in Pakistan in 2014.
But the strikes likely will continue. A pair of drone strikes in November targeted a suspected senior Taliban official and a high-profile member of the extremist group the Haqqani network. The latter was one of six killed in a reported strike in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of far northern Pakistan.
A senior administration official tells the Post the U.S. is “continuing to aggressively identify and disrupt terrorist threats in the Afghan war theater and outside areas of active hostilities in line with our established [counterterrorism] objectives and legal and policy standards.”
The official denies that the U.S. has ceased strikes for Pakistani political considerations.