Pakistan to shoot down US Predators?

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.

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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15 Comments

  • Jayadev,India says:

    Not so fast Bill,
    I am thinking..Pak Army will next release video clip of a burning downed drone.I am sure,if they want real effects,they will use a MANPAD to down a drone probably with US permission for “violating sovereignty”.This type of grand standing will temporarily alleviate or restore dishonour felt by Islamist nuts(who got it handed out to them by clever use of sharia by US diplomats in Davis case) in Punjab.

  • Villiger says:

    As i said earlier the timing of the last drone strike was very poor. Further, it appears that, given that quite a few civilians were involved, there was some measure of poor judgment as well and/or, poor execution.
    Kayani has been made to look like an ass amongst his own people. First, barely a week ago he had one of his Generals make a first-ever public comment on the ‘myths’ of drones killing civilians. Second, he moved heaven and earth to get Davis released literally just one day before. The very next day the thanks that the CIA gave him was a drone strike with substantial (likely) civilian casualties.
    Kayani had delivered on a gentleman’s agreement struck in Oman with no less than 5 US generals there to press him. Whatever the precise facts of the strike, it caused public embarassment to him. The lack of any clarification by the US borders on mis-timed and misplaced arrogance.
    So he’s flexing his muscles and perhaps i have misread the situation altogether and maybe the US just actually decided strategically to play hardball while the Davis case was languishing. Maybe its a deliberate raising of the stakes?
    So are we in for another pause on the drone strikes? We’ll see. Are we in for another round for CIA-ISI negotiations on their terms of engagement? I’d say so.

  • Pyro says:

    It seems almost DEFINITIVE that they have taken out a very high level target and that they are ticked about it.
    I always thought drone strikes were quite effective against mujahideen. Perhaps the Pakistani response reflects this truth. I wonder, is it possible that someone very high up was taken out, maybe even Hafiz Gul Bahadur?

  • crusader says:

    how many times have the us been allowed to send troops on pakistani soil to go after terrorists?

  • unallied801 says:

    Instead of focusing on shooting down drones, the Pakistanis should focus their military on actually taking action inside North Waziristan.
    To VILLAGER: The timing wasn’t good? Should we have asked the militants politely to postpone their public meeting for next week? When there is an opportunity like that available, we need to act.
    The war on terror is against all terrorists and those who harbor them, including tribal leaders in North Waziristan.

  • hillbilly says:

    the end game is near,pakistan knows strategic alliance with US is a farce and pakistan will get nothing from america once the game is over…US claims that india{pakistans enemy} is its natural ally and a counter balance against fast growing china.in such a scenario it will be stupid of pakistan not to hedge its bets……no sane person will deny the super power status of america but deep thinking strategists know very well that US will not go for an all out war with pakistan and that pakistan can take few punches here and there and has the capacity to throw a counter punch.
    those who say that pakistan has been duplicitous need to know the understanding reached between US and pakistan after 9/11….it was made clear that pakistan will support US against Alqaeda and Alqaeda only and pakistan has been true to its commitment……i am sorry to say that amercans are sour losers.

  • Khushal says:

    Terrorist are life line for Pakistan Army establishment. These commited Allah Army are doing wonders for Pakistani Generals, what they can’t do with 1 million pulses eating army(Dal Hoor). These commited suicide bombers can destroy Bombay, Delhi, Afghanistan, Europe & US. To protect or at least giving an impression to protect these assets(factories of sucide bombers), they may choose to ditch their masters. It will be tragedy that F-16 provided to Punjabi Army will be used against US. It will be double tragedy that terrorist(on facilitation of Pakistani Army establishment) will be using a nuclear bomb to terrorise the world.
    Now it is upto US & rest of the world to decide what to do with Pakistan Army establishment which are openly supporting terrorists. If US can attack Afghanistan for supporting terrorist, what is holding them to attack Rawalpindi, Lahore & Mureekay that are bent on destroying the world.

  • JRP says:

    Frankly, I wish Pakistani Air Force would go after our drones. Just maybe it would cause the U.S. to get tougher with Pakistan in other ways, such as by a cutoff of foreign aid, an Ambassadorial recall, a declaration of hot pursuit policy, something. Though I favor the drone program, I’ve never thought it had any chance of success whatsoever to nail the Al Qaeda Leadership, and that is what is needed to win the WoT.

  • Villiger says:

    unallied:
    “The timing wasn’t good? Should we have asked the militants politely to postpone their public meeting for next week?’
    You actually just finished, going down on your knees, begging to get Davis released. So, yes, it looks like you’re going to have to, next time, ask your PakMil allies politely before you act.

    “The war on terror is against all terrorists and those who harbor them, including tribal leaders in North Waziristan.”
    So why don’t you go after the PakMil who is the greatest harborer of them all?
    Why bother with drones at all? Go fight a full-on war.
    If there are only terrorists and harborers, by your definition, why bother with precision? Go carpet-bomb the place. Why wait for them to be in meetings? Go get them in their beds.
    Ten years gone. Why are you procrastinating?

    Btw, why do you call the target a ‘public’ meeting?
    My point is that we don’t have the facts. If this event were in Afghanistan we would’ve very likely had info from ISAF. Thats whats required here, not necessarily an apology as demanded by Pak.

  • kp says:

    The idea Pyro mentions (that we took out someone very senior perhaps Hafiz Gul Bahadur) had crossed my mind too. That would account for the outrage especially if the intel last few NW drone missions have all been CIA/DIA sourced. It would also explain the reports of four drones staying over the target for an extended period.

    From what we hear about the drone missions the CIA has been taking efforts to minimize civilian casualties by hitting vehicles out of town. Each of these strikes have a lawyer in the loop pointing out what they can legal do and what they can’t. So I don’t see the CIA looking for lots of unneeded casualties without either having a good reason (e.g. a HVT present; the others are essential Taliban logistical support and enable the Taliban in the region; or a follow-up from an attack on a HVT).

    So we get back to either this was an error perhaps in the classic hit a vehicle at a compound owned by Hafiz Gul Bahadur. I find that difficult to believe that we could have missed seeing 30 civvies in a the pre strike recce. If the jirga was outdoors that certainly would be the case.

    Or mis ID of something that looked like a big TTP meeting: a jirga with lots of people carrying guns on property owned by Hafiz Gul Bahadur that could look like Taliban especially when there are Taliban on site as more than a car full were killed. Then a HVT arrives and is hit. Other buldings on the site are also hit.

    Or perhaps it was a vehicle strike at the same time that a jirga had been arranged (on property owned by Hafiz Gul Bahadur). The locals (being loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the local Taliban) after a vehicle attack (o a property owned by Hafiz Gul Bahadur … I don’t buy the “and then this vehicle just pulled up after being fired on by a drone four times each on was misses) and the Taliban/locals rescued the victims taking them into the building thta the jirga was currently happening in. A “anti-rescue” strike destroys the building and guarantees the original HVT is dead.

    Or perhaps we knew what was going on and consider these folks logistical support for TTP/Taliban/HN/etc meeting with the HVT Taliban leader to solve a taxation issue (who owns the mine so who pays money to the taliban) so the collateoutral damage is more downplayed.

    With seeing the video from the drones and hearing the reasoning we can’t know. CIA may have made a mistake (of small or large magnitude). Or they may have planned this attack to make an impact on the TTP/HN infrastructure. As hey never say they did it it seems less likley that we’ll find out unless they decide to leak the info. I presume the two guys who disputed the chromite mine ownership were present and are now dead that will complicate sorting out that ownership.

    I’m also with Bill on this. I doubt Pakistan will attempt to down a drone (do the the Reapers carry AIM-9L for self defense? They could) as that would cause them even more problems than they already had with the US. Clearly they didn’t want Davis to go to trial not because they wanted to save a CIA agent for the US but because something of theirs was on the line. I think the same is true here: they’re playing to their own audience.

  • BullsEye says:

    Who says the chromite mine dispute wasn’t actually “solved” by the strike? “Good” Taliban vs BadTaliban??? More like ISI playing off their allies against each other, as always.

  • wallbangr says:

    Nice fact-finding, KP. True, much of your analysis is conjecture, but without an official account, all we can do is speculate based on facts in the open source. Not sure we will ever know, (although my favorite line from the NYT piece was when an unnamed US official was quoted as saying, “We know they weren’t there for a bake sale.”) but it does raise some interesting questions. Clearly it has struck a nerve with the Paks. I’m less inclined to believe that this was outrage after Paki “goodwill” for the Davis “deal.” That’s another interesting can of worms. Davis was, by some accounts, investigating ISI ties to the Taliban. He shoots his way out after two random goons just happen upon him and decide to roll him in the middle of the day. Uh huh, and now the ISI has his cell phone and knows who was squealing on them. Very convenient. I do think that perhaps there is some merit to the notion that this was itself a shot across the bow to the ISI. No way to know for sure, but I like the idea that perhaps this was our way of saying, “We know how to drop the mitts, too.” So when we follow up on our own intel rather than relying on the loose-lipped ISI for the same and land a haymaker close to home, the Paks play self-righteous indignation about “civilian” casualties. A lot of unknowns about what the intended target was and what was known about who was there. The fact that the Paks are taking this one so hard indicates to me that we were likely on to something of high value to us and even more damning to them. More questions than answers, but good questions, KP.

  • jasfcar says:

    @hillbilly
    those who say that pakistan has been duplicitous need to know the understanding reached between US and pakistan after 9/11….it was made clear that pakistan will support US against Alqaeda and Alqaeda only and pakistan has been true to its commitment
    Read more: //www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2011/03/pakistan_to_shoot_down_us_pred.php#comments#ixzz1HIYXQ8hH
    Hillbilly, trying not to be too harsh here, but your statement above is so absurd as to be ridiculous.
    Pakistan, the place where bin laden, zawahiri (and the list goes on and on) get to call home.
    Now, who was it that said (before Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks): “They that harbor terrorists must share in their fate.”? If they do end up sharing in their fates, all I got to say is oh well, too bad.
    Even if bin laden is having breakfast with the pope, I say, nail him anyways.

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    Damn they are angry. The fact they are tells me the US did something right.

  • Spooky says:

    Actually, Bill, I would argue that shooting down drones is the first strategy compared to the others. US needs the intel and the bases and everything else far more than it would need a single drone that could be replaced fairly quickly.
    Putting that in mind, this isn’t as big a ratcheting up for them, but they know it would be more effective with us, as these comments above me have made clear.
    As for the general behavior of the people on the comments snickering at Pakistan’s anger (because they are given alot of aid and don’t tell us very much), it should be said that money doesn’t equal blood in this region. I mean, they’ll do what is asked, but they won’t like it nor consider us a friend. After all apply something like that to the states, we wouldn’t care for it on any level other than purely out of self-interest.

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