Is the Pakistani military considering shooting down the CIA-operated unmanned US Predator and Reaper strike aircraft that roam the skies over Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan? Two reports over the past 24 hours, from STRATFOR and The Express Tribune, are giving that impression. First the STRATFOR report:
Citing unconfirmed reports, STRATFOR Pakistani sources said March 18 that the Pakistani air force has been placed on red alert in the Waziristan region and all personnel leaves have been canceled. According to the reports, Pakistan will no longer allow U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes and will shoot down any UAV that crosses the border.
Second, from The Express Tribune [emphasis mine]:
Pakistan is reported to have intensified air patrols over tribal areas, especially North Waziristan, putting the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) at a higher alert level.
BBC Urdu quoted air force sources as saying that some orders were issued at the “highest level on an emergency basis, including cancellation of leaves of all personnel involved in air reconnaissance”.
They added that leaves of all personnel stationed at air bases and air headquarters have also been cancelled and workers at sensitive installations have been asked to ensure presence of all personnel on Saturday and Sunday.
Sources also said that some operational changes had been made but they had been kept secret, but they believed that they were related to round-the-clock active reconnaissance in tribal areas. They said that these administrative and operational changes were part of Pakistan’s move to quickly respond to drone threats over its territories.
So is Pakistan really considering shooting down the US Predators and Reapers? The answer is that it is highly unlikely. Pakistan has other cards to play if it was serious about ending the program: it could formally request the US to end the program, shut down bases used by the CIA inside Pakistan, and turn off the tap on Pakistan-supplied intelligence. Also, it could lodge a formal protest to the United Nations. Attacking US aircraft, unmanned or not, would be far down on the list of steps it would take.
Keep in mind that in October 2010, Pakistan supposedly deployed anti-aircraft missiles to deter US helicopters that crossed the border to attack Haqqani Network fighters fleeing Afghanistan after attacking US and Afghan forces in Khost [see Threat Matrix report, Pakistan deploys air defense missiles in Afghan border?]. The report was never confirmed.
The reality is that today’s report, like the October report, was leaked by the Pakistani military and aimed at appeasing Pakistani nationalists who are incensed that the US is carrying out airstrikes against the Taliban and al Qaeda who operate with impunity on their soil. Don’t expect any Predators or Reapers to fall from the sky over North Waziristan from a missile launched by the Pakistani military.
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