Sun, Dec 25, 2011 - Page 4 News List

CIA opts to suspend drone missile strikes in Pakistan: report

AFP, LOS ANGELES

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has suspended drone missile strikes on gatherings of low-ranking militants in Pakistan as a result of tensions with that country, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Citing unnamed current and former US officials, the newspaper said late on Friday that the undeclared halt in CIA attacks is aimed at reversing a sharp erosion of trust between the two countries.

US-Pakistani relations deteriorated last month after a series of US air strikes killed 24 Pakistan soldiers near the border with Afghanistan. A joint US-NATO investigation concluded that a disastrous spate of errors and botched communications led to the deaths. Pakistan has rejected the findings.

The pause in the missile strikes comes amid an intensifying debate in the administration of US President Barack Obama over the future of the CIA’s covert drone war in Pakistan, the paper said.

The CIA has killed dozens of alleged al-Qaeda operatives and hundreds of low-ranking fighters there since the first Predator strike in 2004, but the program has infuriated many Pakistanis, the report said.

Some officials in the US Department of State and the US National Security Council have suggested that many of the airstrikes have been counterproductive, the Times said.

They say that rank-and-file militants are easy to replace and that Pakistani claims of civilian casualties, which the US disputes, have destabilized the government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Some US intelligence officials are urging the CIA to cut back the paramilitary role it has assumed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to refocus on espionage, the paper pointed out.

They suggest handing the mission to the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which flies its own drones and conducts secret counter-terrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia, the Times said.

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