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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.