US drone strikes in Pakistan on longest pause since 2008


The covert US drone program that hunts al Qaeda and allied terrorists operating in Pakistan's tribal areas has entered its longest pause since the strikes were ramped up in the summer of 2008.

The US has not launched a Predator or Reaper airstrike against terrorist targets in Pakistan for 33 days, according to statistics compiled by The Long War Journal. The last strike took place on Nov. 16 in the Ramzak area of North Waziristan.

US officials have previously told The Long War Journal that the program is "on hold" due to deteriorating relations between the US and Pakistan from the fallout of a cross-border incident by NATO forces in the tribal agency of Mohmand that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani officers and soldiers.

One US official told The Long War Journal there is concern that another US strike on Pakistani soil will "push US-Pakistan relations past the point of no return." Another official said, however, that the US would attack if "an extremely high value target pops up." [See LWJ report, US drone strikes 'on hold' in Pakistan: US official, for more information on the reasons behind the current pause.]

The 33-day-long gap in strikes is the longest since another pause that took place in the spring of 2009 (28 days, May 16 to June 14). US officials attributed that gap to operational issues with the unmanned aircraft.

The third- and fourth-longest pauses also took place earlier this year, during a time of high tensions with Pakistan. A 27-day-long gap in strikes from Jan. 23 to Feb. 20 occurred after CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. The US ended the pause in strikes the day Davis was returned to the US.

And a 25-day-long gap from March 17 to April 13 took place after the US killed dozens of Pakistanis in a strike in North Waziristan. That strike killed a senior Taliban leader and 11 fighters along with an estimated 30 tribesmen who were said to be negotiating mineral rights in the area. Several members of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the military's intelligence arm, which supports the Taliban and other terror groups, were rumored to have also been killed in the strikes.

US officials had previously denied that the two pauses earlier this year were due to tensions with Pakistan, and instead cited operational issues with the unmanned aircraft, to include "weather." There have been significant pauses during that seasonal time period in previous years.

But one US official told The Long War Journal that the two long pauses earlier this year were indeed related to political problems with Pakistan encountered during those time frames.

"If it isn't clear by now, the airstrikes targeting AQAM (al Qaeda and allied movements) have been constrained by deteriorating relations [with Pakistan]," a senior US official said.

The Obama administration has elevated counterterrorism efforts, of which the drone strikes are the premier tool, as the primary means to defeat al Qaeda's central command in Pakistan. The pause in Predator and Reaper strikes in Pakistan gives al Qaeda and allied terror groups breathing space to regroup and plan operations against the West.

Number of days between Predator/Reaper strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, eight days or greater

2011:

  • 33 days, Nov. 16 to Dec. 19
  • 11 days, Nov. 3 to Nov. 15
  • 11 days, Oct. 15 to Oct. 27
  • 12 days, Sept. 30 to Oct. 13
  • 11 days, Sept. 11 to Sept. 23
  • 17 days, Aug. 22 to Sept. 11
  • 9 days, May 23 to June 3
  • 19 days, April 21 to May 6
  • 25 days, March 17 to April 13
  • 14 days, Feb. 21 to March 8
  • 27 days, Jan. 23 to Feb. 20

2010:

  • 9 days, Dec. 17 to Dec. 27
  • 19 days, July 25 to Aug. 14
  • 15 days, June 29 to July 15
  • 12 days, May 28 to June 10
  • 12 days, March 30 to April 12
  • 10 days, Feb. 24 to March 8
  • 11 days, Feb. 2 to Feb. 14

2009:

  • 19 days, Nov. 18 to Dec. 8
  • 13 days, Sept. 30 to Oct. 14
  • 9 days, Sept. 14 to Sept. 24
  • 10 days, Aug. 27 to Sept. 7
  • 8 days, Aug. 11 to Aug. 20
  • 9 days, June 23 to July 3
  • 28 days, May 16 to June 14
  • 9 days, April 19 to April 29
  • 10 days, April 8 to April 19
  • 9 days, March 15 to March 25
  • 11 days, March 1 to March 12
  • 12 days, Feb. 16 to March 1
  • 21 days, Jan. 23 to Feb. 14
  • 20 days, Jan. 2 to Jan. 23

2008:

  • 11 days, Nov. 29 to Dec. 11
  • 13 days, Sept. 17 to Oct. 1


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READER COMMENTS: "US drone strikes in Pakistan on longest pause since 2008"

Posted by JRP at December 19, 2011 4:11 PM ET:

It looks like drone flyovers in Pakistani air space are going to be on permanent hold. Does the U.S. have any plan B ala a SR-71-like manned high altitude, high speed aircraft that can replace drone surveillance? It's my understanding that no operable SR-71s any longer exist. Our defense experts might want to re-visit the concept of re-employing stealthy manned aircraft for strategic reconaissance.

Posted by Charu at December 19, 2011 4:31 PM ET:

In other words, Pakistani blackmail works against us, just as it has worked against the Indians. They push terrorists across the border to attack our troops, but if we retaliate then all hell will break loose. And if we don't give them aid then hell could also break loose. So it is heads they win, tails we lose.

Posted by Mr. Noboy at December 19, 2011 5:16 PM ET:

How about one more American, Coalition or Afghan civilian death linked to insurgents crossing the border from Pakistan pushes our relations past the point of no return? Let's go ahead and release the most dangerous, hardcore and non reconcilable prisoners from GITMO while we are surrending Afghanistan to the Taliban and Pakistan.

Posted by wishfull thinking at December 19, 2011 11:29 PM ET:

Well maybe they are spending the off time lining up the mini-nukes and checking them twice and it will Snow heavily over Pakistan this winter. You know the season of Karma unfolding and all...

Posted by JT at December 20, 2011 1:12 AM ET:

Perhaps the pace has been slowing because the number of mid to upper level commander types is getting much smaller. This would be consistent with remarks about shifting emphasis from AfPak to Somalia and Yemen.

Let's hope there are no plans for any Christmas attacks this year. We have been lucky that the most recent publicized attacks have been by incompetent people (e.g., Detroit plane, NY Times Square).

Keep on it, guys. We all hear about not getting complacent. It seems that the public sure does. Here is a shout out to the guys behind the scenes. You know who you are.

Merry Christmas to all.

Posted by Stephanie at December 20, 2011 1:53 AM ET:

I wonder if this means the US is going to permanently change its strategy in Pakistan. What do you think?

Posted by captainjohann at December 20, 2011 6:07 AM ET:

Why cannot USA say that they donot want another incident like the one with Iran. Kiyani has openly expressed his intention to shoot down a drone.

Posted by BJ at December 20, 2011 8:54 AM ET:

Is this potentially due to fact that Iran may have found a way to electronically commandeer our drones, like the drone they recently took possession of?

Posted by m3fd2002 at December 20, 2011 3:00 PM ET:

Long time coming. On a tactical level these drone strikes have made it harder for Pakistani based Taliban and friends to refit and rest. But, on a strategic scale they don't do much. I'm not sure who it was that stated that you never want to have a land war in Asia, but they were correct in my opinion. Pakistan can gain our good will instantly if they produce Zawahiri and company, with little loss to their strategic goals. It's always been about Al Qaeda, we shouldn't lose focus on that. We can get to our objectives through proxy, and much more discretely.

Posted by gary siebel at December 20, 2011 4:32 PM ET:

Are we sure the hiatus is not due to a drone that wound up landing in the wrong place?

Posted by mike merlo at December 20, 2011 8:28 PM ET:

Maybe the drone crews are just busy gift wrapping missiles right now.

Posted by mike merlo at December 20, 2011 9:02 PM ET:

re:BJ, g seibel
good analysis. All the more reason to a launch a drone & observe what happens. For one to see if our paki 'allies' are collaborating wth the iranians. Or maybe its technology we've given to the paki's who in turn decided to share it wth the iranians. By the way where's AQ Khan?

Posted by Stephanie at December 21, 2011 1:33 AM ET:

m3fd2000,

I agree. The US is being kind to Pakistan by quitting the airstrikes - Pakistan needs to return the favor. If they know where Ayman al Zawahiri is, they should give him to the US for Christmas. I'm sure he would like the weather in Guantanamo in the winter better. :-)

Posted by mike at December 22, 2011 9:05 AM ET:

The pause can only be a good thing, I hope one day they pause forever then perhaps we will have some form of global stability.

Posted by Devin Leonard at December 22, 2011 5:36 PM ET:

This is so idiotic. The most powerfull military on earth should not have it's war plans on hold due to the blackmail of some backwater nation. Threaten to cut off the rest of thier aid if they won't let us back up in the air with our drones, then watch their military and thier country dry up like a prune!

We need to grow some balls and tell the Pakis we are going to do what we want to do, if they don't like it....tuff titti, they can kiss thier 40 billion in aid goodbye.

Posted by Daniel at December 23, 2011 9:37 PM ET:

In this LAT piece there is a photograph of a crashed and burnt out US drone.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-pakistan-cia-drone-20111224,0,4561079.story
Does anybody know what it is called?

Posted by Jon at December 26, 2011 12:32 PM ET:

Pakistanis started saying that they have defeated the USA in Afghanstan and Afghans better become Pakistani colony once again. Al Zawahiri will now be used as a tool of Pakistanis to balckmail USA by sending those freak messages to frighten American people once again - it is doubted if any one will be listening any more.