Report: CIA Suspends Drone Attacks in Pakistan

Posted December 24th, 2011 at 2:25 am (UTC-5)
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A prominent U.S. newspaper says the Central Intelligence Agency has suspended drone strikes targeting low-ranking militants in Pakistan in an effort to mend badly frayed relations with the South Asian nation.

The Los Angeles Times Friday quoted unnamed U.S. officials who say the CIA's “undeclared halt” in attacks is aimed at reversing a “sharp erosion of trust” between the two countries, following a series of deadly incidents, including a NATO attack in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The newspaper says the six-week pause comes amid an “intensifying debate” in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration about the future of the CIA's drone operation in Pakistan. The report says drone strikes have killed dozens of of al-Qaida operatives and hundreds of low-ranking fighters since 2004, but they have also infuriated many Pakistanis.

The Los Angeles Times quotes State Department and National Security Council officials who say the airstrikes are “counterproductive,” because rank-and-file militants who are killed are easy to replace. The paper says Pakistani claims of civilian casualties, which the United States disputes, have “destabilized” the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, a U.S. ally.

The newspaper says some intelligence officials are urging the CIA to “cut back” its paramilitary role to refocus on espionage. The newspaper says the officials have suggested handing the drone mission over to the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command, which flies its own drones and conducts secret counter-terrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia.