US drones zero in on Quetta

WASHINGTON :The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, The Washington Post reported Saturday, citing the US and Pakistani officials said. But Pakistan has rejected the request, the newspaper said in a dispatch from Islamabad.The US appeal was focused on the area surrounding Quetta, where US believes the Afghan Taliban leadership is based. But it also sought to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.While rejecting the request, Pakistan has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban, the newspaper Post says, adding that the disagreement over the scope of the drone programme underscores broader tensions between the two allies.

Senior Pakistani officials, according to the Post, expressed resentment over what they described as misplaced pressure to do more, saying the United States, which has not controlled the Afghan side of the border, is preoccupied by arbitrary military deadlines and has little regard for Pakistan’s internal security problems.“You expect us to open the skies for anything that you can fly,” said a high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official, who described the Quetta request as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty. “In which country can you do that?”Confirming the request for expanded drone flights, the US officials cite concern that Quetta functions not only as a sanctuary for Taliban leaders but also as a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to Taliban inside Afghanistan.“If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out,” an unnamed NATO military official was quoted as saying.The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has accelerated dramatically in recent months, with 47 attacks recorded since the beginning of September, according to The Long War Journal. By contrast, there were 45 strikes in the first five years of the drone programme. But Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly, according to the Post. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight ‘boxes’ over the country’s tribal belt but not other provinces – Rasoulnews