US gives Pakistan ‘control’ over drone strikes
* Drones will be allowed under direction of Pakistani military officials working with American counterparts in Jalalabad
Daily Times Monitor
LAHORE: The US military has begun flying Predator drones in Pakistan and given Pakistani officers significant control over targets, flight routes and decisions to launch attacks, US officials say.
The officials say the project has been started recently to bolster Pakistan’s ability and willingness to disrupt the militant groups active in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
For the US military, the missions represent a broad new role – searching for militants in Pakistan. For years, that task was the domain of the CIA.
Under the new partnership, US military drones will be allowed under the direction of Pakistani military officials, working with American counterparts at a command centre in Jalalabad.
US officials say the programme is aimed at getting Pakistan “more directly and deeply engaged” in the Predator programme.
“This is about building trust,” said a senior US military official. “This is about giving them capabilities they do not ... have to help them defeat this ... extreme element ... in their country.”
Pakistanis, however, have yet to use the drones to shoot at suspected militants.
US officials acknowledge that the initiative carries serious risks. Pakistan, they said, was struggling to balance a desire for more control over the drones with a reluctance to become ‘complicit’ in strikes on its “own people”.
During his visit to Washington last week, President Asif Zardari had reiterated the request for a fleet of Predators. US officials have all but ruled that out, describing the jointly operated flights as an effective compromise.
While the CIA drones continue to focus on Al Qaeda, the military drones are intended to disrupt militant networks deeper into Pakistan.