Analysis: Gap in Pakistan Predator strikes not unusual


For over three weeks, the CIA’s controversial covert air campaign that targets al Qaeda, Taliban, and allied terror groups’ leaders and operatives in Pakistan’s lawless and Taliban-controlled tribal areas has been silent. There has not been an airstrike by the armed, unmanned Predators and Reapers, or drones as they are more commonly called, for 25 days. This pause has sparked speculation that the US has halted the strikes for political reasons, but a look at the pace of the strikes over time shows that long pauses are not uncommon.

The current 23-day lull in strikes in Pakistan is the second-longest period of inactivity since the US ramped up the program in August 2008, according to data on the strikes compiled by The Long War Journal [a list of operational pauses that have been longer than eight days appears below].

The most recent strikes took place on Jan. 23, when the Predators and Reapers pounded al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The most extended period of operational inactivity so far has occurred in 2009. The longest recorded pause was 28 days, from May 16 to June 14, 2009.

Also, there have been two other periods of time in which 20 or more days went by without a strike. Again, both operational pauses occurred in 2009: from Jan. 23 to Feb. 14 (21 days); and from Jan. 2 to Jan. 23 (20 days).

In 2010, there were two periods exceeding 15 days’ time in which no Predator strikes occurred in Pakistan: from July 25 to Aug. 14 (19 days) ; and from June 29 to July 15 (15 days). There was another 19 day period in 2009, from Nov. 18 to Dec. 8, without a strike.

Since August 2008, there have been 24 periods of eight days or longer with no Predator strikes.

Most US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal were unwilling to discuss the reasons for the current pause in strikes, or previous strikes, citing operational security concerns. But weather in the region is known to be the primary reason for slowdowns in the strikes.

Pakistani news outlets have speculated that the pause in strikes is related to the arrest of Raymond Davis, the US consular official who shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. Davis believed the men were trying to kill him, but Pakistani courts refuse to recognize his diplomatic status and release him. One theory is that the US is not launching Predator strikes while Davis is in custody lest an attack inflame Pakistani sentiments.

But US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not link Davis’ detention to the pause in strikes.

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


  • 23 days, Jan. 23 to Feb. 16


  • 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


  • 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
  • 10 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


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

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • JRP says:

    There’s no doubt whatsoever that the drone lull is tied to the Raymond Davis affair. The Davis detention is just another humiliating slap in the U.S. face. We should pull a Nixon and actually ramp things up so this treacherous so-called ally of ours gets the message loud & clear that the people of the United States of America have absolutely had it with their antics.

  • JT says:

    The third longest gap of 25 days over a period of over 800 total days is significant. Whether it is a statistical clump or due to things such as the Davis situation cannot be proven by these numbers alone.
    I suspect that there are geo political reasons for this gap and that Davis is not simply a coincidence. When would an argument based on the numbers alone concede that Davis or political reasons are the cause? When it happens to reach the max gap? There is no magic number. As the gap grows and Davis remains in Pakistan, the probability simply increases.

  • INC says:

    Why is the US so soft on the Paks? We should tell them, again, that they are with us or against us. It is obvious that they are against us so we should not give them money to bloody our nose at their whim. I’m tired of the soft stick that we use with them, because they only respect the stick with nails sticking out. It is time to invade the sanctuary and finish this thing once and for all.

  • blert says:

    I’d suspect that there is SOME linkage to Davis. I just don’t know what it is and do not care to speculate.
    From what little I’ve read it appears that Davis was the target of a hit squad — that he destroyed at close quarters.
    If that’s true — someone fingered him, somehow.
    All of the antics of the islamist politicians are telling me that it’s phase II of the assassination attempt.
    The accepted diplomatic counter-move going back centuries is to seize an equal ranked diplomat from their embassy, too. Whatever fate befalls Davis befalls the Pakistani diplomat.
    Leave the UN out of it. Those diplomats are here under an entirely different set of rules and cannot be touched.
    If Carter had seized hostages 1:1 our boys would have been back 442 days earlier and the Iraq-Iran war would not have occurred.
    Never forget that that conflict was DIRECTLY consequential to the embassy fiasco. The Iranians still blame Washington for their own blow-back.

  • David says:

    Stratfor has some interesting analysis that lends further credence to the notion that the situation with Davis could very well be contributing to the lull. The Predator strikes have angered the same portions of the population who are raising hell over Davis.

  • James says:

    Once again and at a minimum, I will highly recommend and strongly suggest that we “merge” our intelligence assets with India’s.
    This can be done incognito and behind the scenes, at least initially.
    Our friend and ally in that region has been none other than India right from the get go.
    It is clear to me that we have been on the wrong side of the Durand Line. These Mussolini Pakistanis have been stabbing US in the back since day one in this thing.

  • JT says:

    According to Pakistani news, Davis will be held until at least mid March. (see link below). If that holds true and there are no more drone strikes until mid March, it will much more difficult than it is now not to see the Davis situation as the cause for the lull.

  • Obama knows that his re election is connected to Raymond davies coming out alive and safe and Pakistan knows it too.I am sure US will give some more $s or exchange Dr.Afisa to sweeten the deal with Pakistan.Pakistan is now intircately connected to Obama re election and now India is asked to pay the price in the guise of Siachen withdrawal.

  • Charu says:

    @blert, you are onto something in suggesting that we hold one of the Pakistani diplomats as a measure to release Davis. The Pakistanis would routinely seize and beat up Indian diplomats in their country; until India began to retaliate in the same manner on their diplomats in India. The Pakistanis quickly got the message and toned down their belligerent behavior – although this leopard can never entirely change its spots. However, I suspect that the Pakistanis could be holding Davis in order to get their daughter-of-the-nation, Aafiya Siddiqui released.
    The Stratfor report was disheartening in that it highlights how far removed Pakistan is from ever being considered our ally. It is hard to imagine another country that is quite as hostile towards Americans as Pakistan has been for some time now. Not even Iran, North Korea or China has this level of state-instigated violence on our diplomatic personnel. The lull in the drone attacks only shows how tightly the ISI has us by the cojones. John Kerry is exactly the wrong person to send to Pakistan to negotiate; he has consistently misread the Pakistanis and lavished aid on them each time they behaved badly. Richard Armitage would have been a better choice to lay the line down.

  • villiger says:

    Every once in a while some uncontrollable thing happens that reminds one that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans and has the potential to fundamentally force a change of strategy.
    When ‘Davis’ pulled the trigger, little did he know he was changing the dynamics of the charade that is the US-Pak relationship. But that is the risk when you are playing charades, life calls your bluff. In the short-term, this looks like a no-win situation.
    The real strategic review which should’ve happened 3 months ago will happen now. It will have to factor in that the relationship between the CIA and the ISI will never be the same.

  • Jim says:

    Might the lull in missions be related to the protests and demonstrations in the Muslim world?

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Bad weather is a very plausible explanation.

  • Raven says:

    You got it. I think, Mr. Davis knew he had seconds to live and had to act. I don’t believe in attempted burglary angle. This was deeper and more complex. ISI known to hire common criminals as their eyes and ears to track foreigners. Someone here mentioned Indians get it all the time and had to retaliate..
    Our CIA man leaving Pakistan in a hurry and subsequent Davis capture are connected, I guess. But would they use this to blackmail us to stop drones (if not, this will anger the crowd and put Mr. Davis in danger?) or delay them till they cover up something else.
    Also sending Senator Kerry is a signal that we are dealing with a weak hand. Hope I am wrong…

  • JRP says:

    Reuters News Agency now reporting that Pakistani Court is delaying resolution of Davis’ Diplomatic Immunity question till March 14th. Anyone can see that Pakistan is using the Davis Affair to disarm our drone program. It may very well be true that fear of civil unrest is a component here, but opportunistically the Davis Affair is playing right into the hands of those in the Pakistani Gov’t who want to end the drone program. Since the drone program is at least stymieing AQ/Taliban, the longer we go without it, the more time for the enemy to recuperate from its losses. We are in a lousy fix here. We absolutely must stick by Davis. However, ultimately his repatriation will be at the expense of numerous KIAs in the field cut down by an enemy resuscitated during the drone lull. The U.S. simply can’t go on like this forever. In terms of National prestige, it’s beginning to feel like the Jimmy Carter days when the Iranian revolutionaries were making a World joke out of the U.S. till Ronald Reagan sent them a message. Hopefully, the Obama Administration is reaching out for those Reagan advisors who went through that experience and getting the benefit of their hard-earned wisdom.

  • JRP says:

    A further thought . . . Our Ambassador in Pakistan should suggest to the authorities there, with respect to their fears about civil unrest should Davis be released, that they approach their people on the subject of a Davis release as a kind of honorable Islamic thing to do since Scotland, a U.S. ally, let the Lockerbie Bomber go back to Lybia in spite of what he had done. The idea just might make some sense to even the most frenzied in the maddening crowd calling for Davis’ scalp. It’s worth a try.

  • Mr. Wolf says:

    When playing cards or another game, the only thing to remember is that there is another hand. When dealing with geopolitics, there is always another election that changes the dynamics of a situation. Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, & others will see some of these fighters return home (maybe to settle down and use the chance to raise a family that can do this again). The fighting will continue for Central republics, but for most of the “arab” fighters, there is a new home to go to this summer. Time to live and take their wives home.

  • kp says:

    One other possibility is we do use the ISI for significant intel in the Waziristans and they’ve stopped feeding us that data from their network. One can imagine this to be true if we just blew away two of their operatives.

    Pakistan is well out of line for not recognizing a diplomatic situation especially as they are supposed to be an ally. The solution here is not to retaliate in kind (as we respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. 1961) but to place significant other pressure on Pakistan which seems to have already happened. Ultimately this could be escalated to delaying or turning off aid. Of course we have significant supply routes through through Pakistan that we still need that is probably complicating things.

    There is a pretty good summary in Wikipedia especially in the Aftermath section. It seems we have stopped talking to

  • Render says:

    There some other possible reasons…
    All of the armed drones are essentially prototypes in testing under field conditions. Maintenance schedules are going to be accelerated and replacement parts not always going to be available on demand.
    Which brings us to another possibility. A shortage of drone capable weapons packages (Hellfire missiles and 500lb JDAMs) in the supply chain or the on site ammo bunkers. Manned aircraft using the same weapons packages would have a priority in such a situation.
    Weather is going to be a factor at times, but perhaps not for 25 straight days. We’re not talking about the Aleutian or Falkland Islands.
    Given how slowly the White House reacted to the Tunisian and then the Egyptian uprisings, I seriously doubt that entered into the equation 25 days ago. (anything is possible though)
    The Mr. Davis situation began on Jan 27th. Two days after the lull started. But may as well be a contributing factor after the fact.
    It is also possible that the Pakistani’s shut down the bases that the drones operate from, or threatened to shoot the drones down.
    Yet another possibility is that the Pakistani based Taliban have gotten their grubby hands on some Anza Mark III MANPADs (shoulder fired surface to air missile), which are (supposed to be) decidedly dangerous to slow flying drones.
    Lastly…It could be some combination of all of the above (including other commentors points).

  • James says:

    Mubeen Ahmed, thanks for the link.
    We should now demand that the US Congress declare war on Pakistan.
    As far as Raymond Davis is concerned, hopefully he won’t end up being lynched by the mob like those poor US contractors in Fallujah were.

  • Gman says:

    If Mr ‘Davis’ is just another in-country spook, why all the fuss?
    Food for thought…

  • Villiger says:

    Raven, you have it too.
    The operative word here is ‘weakness’. Sending Kerry, i’m not saying was wrong, but is a sign of weakness. The President having to jump into it personally for, what on the face of it, is a relatively minor incident is a sign of weakness. Kerry coming back empty handed and with no closure on a deal is a sign of weakness. The whole drone program coming to a grinding halt is a sign of weakness. The State Dept not having nipped it in the bud for a ‘diplomat’ is a sign of weakness. The debatibility of ‘Davis’s’ status is an inherrent weakness. The level of anti-American feeling despite the billions of so-called aid underscores the weakness in the leverage that money is supposed to provide.
    The US’s overarching strategy in AfPak refusing to recognize and address its failure in gaining effective Pakistani cooperation is a weakness that renders the whole strategy, sorry to say, utterly futile. Its a shambles. And ‘Davis’s’ handful of bullets is showing that up.
    Its like the US has been running to stay on pretty much the same spot. But not the money, that river keeps flowing, where to? no one really knows.
    Now let’s talk about the weather….
    Or understand that it is almost as impossible to change Pakistan, as it is to change the weather.
    Still, one can change the game. Play dominos and leave the chessboard. But first the US needs to recognize that, in Pakistan, it is stalemated.

  • Villiger says:

    Baluchistan: Pakistan’s other war
    Could this be a part of the US strategy?

  • kp says:

    Render says “Weather is going to be a factor at times, but perhaps not for 25 straight days. We’re not talking about the Aleutian or Falkland Islands.”

    This had crossed my mind too. This is the time of year previously that there have been slowdowns too.

    If you are relying on the OPFOR to move around or train or generally “do stuff” to be observed that’s much less likely to happen in the winter. Cloud cover (I presume but haven’t checked) also increases and for aircraft flying at 12000 feet medium and low cloud can be a problem so they can’t see ground targets. We could still be looking with SAR for vehicle movement (and static placement) but you aren’t going to do face rec (or see IR designators) with radar. That combined with positive ID legal issues could lead to a slow down.

    We’ll know one way or the other with the next strike: is Davis still in custody?

  • Mubeen says:

    James & JRP,
    Davis doesnot hold diplmatic immunity, Pakistan Foreign office asked some questions regarding Raymond Davis status, but they didnt reply, Its already been cleared in a press conference by Ex-foreign Minister Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi that Raymond is not a diplomat.
    Is this logical that if a person who is claiming that he is working as a consultant in US consulate in lahore. and for his acts 4 innocent lives has gone, just imagine about thier famillies. They were earning bread and butter for their loved ones. From the humanity point of view does he deserve any sort of immunity. Lets say if your brother killed by such an act what will you do.
    We are already in war what will happen more miseries we are already suffering.
    but dont forget the Pakistan is the only possible route to transfer the goods for US and NATO forces.
    We need to stop this so called war of terrorism, imposed by Zionists on Americans, and whole world. We need to create pressure groups on our governments to stop this non-sense.

  • tunde says:

    some interesting points all round.
    i’m beginning to think davis is part of some ‘out-sourced’ intel effort. was he one of dewey’s boyz ? his legend is shoddy, and tradecraft appalling; this combined with the QRF knocking over a pedestrian.
    incriminating photos on his camera help fuel pakistani public rumours that the recent string of bombings are part of a wider indo-US-israeli effort to destabilise the country. the damage he’s wrought will take some time to repair.

  • JRP says:

    As we have seen over the past couple of years, assassination is very easy to accomplish in Pakistan. It would not surprise me at all, if Davis turned up dead and the Pakistan Gov’t, with the straightest of faces, told our Ambassador that he was shot while trying to escape, or committed suicide by “hanging himself in his cell”, or suffered a heart attack. I’m suspicious about the lack of news concerning visitation privileges accorded to him. Our Ambassador should be demanding that someone from the Embassy be permitted to visit with Davis not less than once a day. Also, we should be demanding that a U.S. physician be permitted to give Davis a comprehensive physical and psychological exam. Also, where are all those investigative journalists, those writers for The New Yorker, The NYT, etc. who never tire of exposing alleged U.S. mistreatment of every scum of the Earth who falls into our hands, but seem silent on a story that is Patently one of total abuse of international law? You spit on the sidewalk in front of a Mosque these days and some journalist will write a screed calling for your indictment. It’s funny how all the self-righteous media people jumped all over the Lara Logan story, but can’t find 15 seconds of air time to get to the truth behind what is morphing into Davis’ abduction vice detention.

  • blert says:

    Pakistan is in the middle of a slow burning civil war — that’s all.
    With ages of twenty-something the duo don’t fit as ISI agents. They sound more like stringers — expendable playahs.
    By acting exactly like criminals and packing heat they profiled as threats.
    ISI ran our top spy out of their country just recently.
    This pursuit against Davis is of the same nature.
    The very top leadership of Pakistan realizes that Davis is deal breaker. Further, should America cut the money off Islamabad would be broke the next day.
    At which point Pakistan would implode.
    And in the backround Pakistan is ramping up fissile production like atomic war is straight ahead.

  • Charu says:

    C Christine Fair’s take on the Raymond Davis affair:
    My take is that she’s gone native, because she seems to give credence to Pakistan’s rampant conspiratorial theories; this in a country that has already kidnapped and beheaded Americans and has repeatedly shown to be duplicitous and untrustworthy as an ally. And she’s tagging us with diplomatic duplicity? If anything, the US has been exceedingly naive and willfully ignorant in its dealings with Pakistan – as often indicated by CC Fair’s commentary on NPR. Davis had every reason to fear for his life, going by well-established precedence. Being an American diplomat in Pakistan is a hardship post like few other.

  • Charu says:

    Let’s not forget that the friction between the CIA and the ISI came to a head when private citizens in the US sued the ISI in court for masterminding the murder of Americans in Mumbai. The Pakistani’s retaliated by outing our CIA station chief, and now they are twisting the knife deeper over Raymond Davis. Given how we have previously responded to Pakistani blackmail, I have little doubt that we will once again cravenly fold and let the ISI walk over us; with them ending up being richer by a few additional billions of dollars for their trouble.


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