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June 05, 2011

Obama Admin Reconsidering Pakistan Drone Strategy?

During his first debate with Senator McCain in 2008, then-Senator Obama suggested that he would consider launching attacks into Pakistan if the Pakistanis weren't cooperating in the war on terror. McCain's reply was more "nuanced". McCain said "you do what you have to do, but work with the Pakistani government."

This debate is taking place again, only this time within the Obama Administration.

Fissures have opened within the Obama administration over the drone program targeting militants in Pakistan, with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and some top military leaders pushing to rein in the Central Intelligence Agency's aggressive pace of strikes.

[...]

The White House National Security Council debated a slowdown in drone strikes in a meeting on Thursday, a U.S. official said. At the meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta made the case for maintaining the current program, the official said, arguing that it remains the U.S.'s best weapon against al Qaeda and its allies.

The result of the meeting—the first high-level debate within the Obama administration over how aggressively to pursue the CIA's targeted-killing program—was a decision to continue the program as is for now, the U.S. official said.

Apparently it is Panetta on one side versus the State Department plus unnamed military officials on the other. That may be why they're having this discussion now. Panetta, of course, is on his way to the Secretary of Defense's office at the end of the month and General Petraeus will be taking over at CIA.

Petraeus is known to be as much an advocate of drone warfare as Panetta, so if the StateDept folks are going to have their shot, it's probably right now while everyone is busy measuring drapes.

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, backed by top military officers and other State Department officials, wants the strikes to be more judicious, and argues that Pakistan's views need to be given greater weight if the fight against militancy is to succeed, said current and former U.S. officials.

Defenders of the current drone program take umbrage at the suggestion that the program isn't judicious. "In this context, the phrase 'more judicious' is really code for 'let's appease Pakistani sensitivities,' " said a U.S. official. The CIA has already given Pakistani concerns greater weight in targeting decisions in recent months, the official added. Advocates of sustained strikes also argue that the current rift with the Pakistanis isn't going to be fixed by scaling back the program.

There's plenty more over at the link above to the Wall Street Journal, which, BTW, always has excellent reporting from the intelligence community.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 12:28 PM

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