Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

U.S. drones fall silent in Pakistan; only a brief respite?

February 18, 2011


For more than three weeks now, there has been no U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s northwest, triggering speculation that the pause may be related to the tensions between the two countries over the arrest of an American embassy employee for murder. Washington is seeking the release of Raymond Davis, a former Special Forces soldier who killed two Pakistanis on Jan 27 during what he said was an attempted robbery in a Lahore street, arguing he is covered under diplomatic immunity.

Pakistanis,  deeply resentful of the heavy U.S.  involvement in the country, are refusing to hand over Davis, saying he should face trial in Pakistan as he didn’t have immunity.

The matter is in court and given the surcharged atmosphere across Pakistan, the United States may well be holding off on its covert air campaign in order not to inflame  passions further. The last missile strike took place on Jan.23 in North Waziristan, where the raids have been concentrated in the hunt for the Haqqani network.  Ordinarily, the Predators and the more advanced Reapers controlled from the U.S. are in the Pakistani northwest at least two or three times a week, as part of a ramped-up campaign since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. “Drones in slumber after Davis incident,”  a headline read in The News.

But The Long War Journal which closely tracks the drone programme  said there have been periods of operational inactivity in the past and this latest pause is only the third-longest. The longest was in November 2009 when it lasted 33 days, followed by another in June of the same year when it ran for 28 days.

Weather is a primary reason for disruption of drone missions. Also, it may be a question of operational intelligence with missions dependent on the information flow. Even now in this surcharged atmosphere, if the CIA were to get information about a high-value target in the Pakistani northwest, it’s hard to see them passing up the chance to strike.

As CIA director Leon Panetta said in 2009, the drones were the “only game in town” to stop the al Qaeda , and it doesn’t seem likely the United States is about to give up its weapon of choice.

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