WASHINGTON -- In a bid to save the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan, US officials offered key concessions to Pakistan's spy chief that included advance notice and limits on the types of targets. But the offers were flatly rejected, leaving US-Pakistani relations strained as President Barack Obama prepares to meet Tuesday with Pakistan's prime minister.
CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with Pakistan's then-spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha at a meeting in London in January, offered to give Pakistan advance notice of future CIA drone strikes against targets on its territory in a bid to keep Pakistan from blocking the strikes – arguably one of the most potent U.S. tools against al-Qaida.
The CIA chief also offered to apply new limits on the types of targets hit, said a senior U.S. intelligence official briefed on the meetings. No longer would large groups of armed men rate near-automatic action, as they had in the past – one of the so-called "signature" strikes, where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.
Pasha said then what Pakistani officials and its parliament have repeated in recent days: that Pakistan will no longer brook independent U.S. action on its territory by CIA drones, two Pakistani officials said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations.
Pasha went further, saying Pakistan's intelligence service would no longer carry out joint raids with U.S. counterterrorist teams inside its country, as it had in the past. Instead, Pakistan would demand that the U.S. hand over the intelligence, so its forces could pursue targets on their own in urban areas, or send the Pakistani army or jets to attack the targets in the tribal areas, explained a senior Pakistani official.
The breakdown in U.S.-Pakistani relations follows a series of incidents throughout 2011 that have marred trust – from a CIA security officer who shot dead two alleged Pakistani assailants, to the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, to the border incident where U.S. forces returned fire they believed came from a Pakistani border post, killing 24 Pakistani troops. The diplomatic fallout has led to the ejection of U.S. military trainers who'd worked closely with Pakistani counter-insurgent forces, slowed CIA drone strikes, and almost halted the once-common joint raids and investigations by Pakistan's intelligence service together with the CIA and FBI.
Pasha's pronouncements were in line with the Pakistani parliament's demands issued last week that included ceasing all U.S. drone strikes as part of what Pakistani politicians call a "total reset" in its relationship. Pakistan's parliament last week demanded cessation of all unilateral U.S. actions including the drone strikes.
The rejection of the U.S. offers set up a potentially rocky meeting ahead between Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in South Korea on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. President Asif Ali Zardari met with special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Mark Grossman en route to Pakistan, and Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis is headed to Pakistan in April.
Complicating efforts to restore relations are the demands made by a Pakistani parliamentary committee.
A personality change at the top of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is another wrinkle, with Pasha now replaced by Army Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam officially last week, a senior U.S. official said. While Islam has spent time studying at U.S. military institutions, and once served as deputy to the ISI, he is a mostly unknown quantity to U.S. officials. The staff change was not anticipated when the January Pasha-Petraeus meeting took place, both U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
The diplomatic furor threatens to halt the CIA's drone program, which in the last eight years, has killed an estimated 2,223 Taliban, al-Qaida and other suspected militants with 289 strikes, peaking at 117 strikes throughout 2010, reducing al-Qaida's manpower, firepower and reach, according to Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal website, which tracks the strikes. U.S. officials say his figures are fairly accurate, though they would not give more precise figures.
The strikes have markedly slowed to only 10 strikes in the opening months of this year, with the last in mid-March, Roggio said. That puts the program on pace for a total of 40-50 strikes for the year, less than the year before.
Roggio says the strikes so far this year seem to back up that report: out of the 10 strikes, two killed high-value targets, and another strike killed three mid-level Taliban leaders, with no large groups reportedly targeted by any of the drone's missiles. In previous years, an average of only 5 percent to 10 percent of targets were deemed high value, with larger numbers of foot soldiers and a much lower percentage of commanders among those hit.
U.S. officials took issue with the interpretation that signature strikes had ceased, adding the "U.S. is conducting, and will continue to conduct, the counterterrorism operations it needs to protect the U.S. and its interests." The CIA offered no official comment.
In his opening salvo to keep the program going, Petraeus offered to give his Pakistani counterpart advance notice of the strikes, as had been the practice under the Bush administration, which launched far fewer strikes overall against militant targets.
The U.S. had stopped giving the Pakistanis advance notice, after multiple incidents of targets escaping, multiple senior U.S. counterterrorist officials say. U.S. intelligence intercepts showed Pakistani officials alerted local tribal leaders of impending action on their territory, and those leaders oftentimes in turn alerted the militants.
Petraeus also outlined how the U.S. had raised the threshold needed to take strikes, requiring his approval more often than in the past, the U.S. official said.
Pakistan's military wants to go back to the "Reagan rules – the way the CIA operated with the ISI against the Soviets" inside Afghanistan, says former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institute. "We give them a big check, and they make every decision about how that is spent. Minimal American footprint in country, or involvement in actual fighting the bad guys."
"We cannot trust the ISI to fight this war for us," after finding bin Laden in a Pakistani military town, "showing the ISI was either clueless or complicit," Riedel said.
Dozier can be followed on Twitter (at)kimberlydozier.
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (U.S.) <strong>Description</strong>: Boeing's stealth Phantom Ray took to the skies for the <a href="http://www.boeing.com/Features/2011/05/bds_phantom_ray_first_flight_05_04_11.html" target="_hplink">first time in April 2011</a>. According to Boeing, the <a href="http://www.boeing.com/advertising/bma/unmanned/unmanned_05.html" target="_hplink">Phantom Ray can perform missions</a> such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; and electronic attack. <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Unknown. This is a "demonstrator" so there will likely be a future variation of the Ray.
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (U.S.) <strong>Description</strong>: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems <a href="http://www.ga-asi.com/products/aircraft/predator_c.php" target="_hplink">Predator Avenger C</a> is a beast. According to the two-page brochure, the PAC is a "Next-Generation Multi-mission ISR and Strike Aircraft" and successor for the Predator B that can be stacked with a multitude of weaponry. <strong>Deployment</strong>: There is one <a href="http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?topicName=unmanned&id=news/awst/2011/12/19/AW_12_19_2011_p25-406500.xml&headline=USAF Plans Larger, More Capable Predator&channel=&from=topicalreports" target="_hplink">demonstration craft currently in Afghanistan</a>.
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (U.S.) <strong>Description</strong>: Yo dawg, I heard you like drones so I <a href="http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/10/socom-warhead-drones/" target="_hplink">put a drone in your drone</a>. One small deadly warhead-equipped mini-drone stuffed into another, to be launched from the main drone and remotely aimed at a target. <strong> Potential Deployment</strong>: This <a href="http://defensenewsstand.com/NewsStand-General/The-INSIDER-Free-Article/socom-could-have-warhead-equipped-micro-uav-by-spring-2012/menu-id-720.html" target="_hplink">warhead-equiped micro-UAV</a> could be flown by SOCOM in the skies by spring 2012.
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (USA) <strong>Description</strong>: <a href="http://www.avinc.com/uas/adc/switchblade/" target="_hplink">AeroVironment's Switchblade</a> is meant to be a portable, rapid deployment, beyond line-of-sight, "loitering munition" that is a "magic bullet." A bit of advice, AeroVironment: Don't describe a remote-controlled bomb as a "loitering munition" that you call "Switchblade," as it conjures up images of 1950's-style greasers loitering on street corners, flipping open switchblades idly as they wait for their favorite gals. Luckily, greasers won't be in charge of flying Switchblades. They're to be controlled by infantry and <a href="http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=7982421&&s=TOP" target="_hplink">according to the AeroVironment</a>, "Flying quietly at high speed the Switchblade delivers its onboard explosive payload with precision while minimizing collateral damage." <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Undisclosed.
<strong>Type</strong>: Surveillance (USA, DARPA Funded) <strong>Description</strong>: AeroVironment is at it again. In partnership with DARPA, they've actually managed to build a human mechanically engineered version of one of nature's most amazing flying machines: the hummingbird. The <a href="http://www.avinc.com/media_gallery/" target="_hplink">Nano Hummingbird</a> is a perfect bid for James Bond-esque style spy shenanigans. Once these hit the field, we'll never look at hummingbirds the same way. "Stop looking at me! That bird is following me!" <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Within five years.
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (U.S. Army) <strong>Description</strong>: Though the military's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/30/us-army-hummingbird-a160-helicopter-drone_n_1176763.html?ref=technology" target="_hplink">A160 Hummingbird drone</a> doesn't resemble an actual hummingbird so much as AeroVironment's take, it is <a href="http://www.salon.com/2011/12/06/nprs_domestic_drone_commercial/" target="_hplink">raising just as many alarms</a> because of its potential to be deployed on the U.S. home front. <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: May or June 2012, Afghanistan
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (U.S. Navy) <strong>Description</strong>: Northrop Grumman <a href="http://www.as.northropgrumman.com/products/mq8bfirescout_navy/index.html" target="_hplink">describes the Firescout</a> as a "Transformational Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle system provides unprecedented situation awareness and precision targeting support for U.S. Armed Forces of the future. The MQ-8B Fire Scout has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at prepared and unprepared landing zones in proximity to the soldier in contact." <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: <a href="http://www.irconnect.com/noc/press/pages/news_releases.html?d=237497" target="_hplink">March 2013</a>
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (German Ministry of Defense, purchased from Northrop Grumman) <strong>Description</strong>: NG touts its <a href="http://www.as.northropgrumman.com/products/euro_hawk/index.html" target="_hplink">Euro Hawk</a>, built for German Ministry of Defense, as having a "wingspan larger than a commercial airliner, endurance of more than 30 hours and a maximum altitude of more than 60,000 feet, EURO HAWK is an interoperable, modular and cost-effective replacement to the aging fleet of manned Breguet Atlantic aircraft, which have been in service since 1972 and will be retired in 2010." <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: 2015, 2016 (<a href="http://www.as.northropgrumman.com/products/euro_hawk/assets/SIGINT_NewsRelease_101211.pdf" target="_hplink">PDF</a>)
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (U.S. Navy) <strong>Description</strong>: A carrier-based combat drone, <a href="http://www.as.northropgrumman.com/products/nucasx47b/index.html" target="_hplink">Northrop Grumman's futuristic X-47B</a> flew in its cruise configuration <a href="http://www.irconnect.com/noc/press/pages/news_releases.html?d=239278" target="_hplink">for the first time</a> on November 22, 2011. It can land with precision on the deck of a moving aircraft carrier, and features twin weapons payload bays that hold up to 4,500 lbs. (<a href="http://www.as.northropgrumman.com/products/nucasx47b/assets/X-47B_Navy_UCAS_FactSheet.pdf" target="_hplink">PDF</a>). <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: <a href="http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/11/navy-killer-drone-refuel/" target="_hplink">2018</a>
<strong>Type</strong>: Military (British) <strong>Description</strong>: BAE System's Taranis (<a href="http://www.baesystems.com/BAEProd/groups/public/documents/bae_publication/bae_pdf_taranis_fact_sheet.pdf" target="_hplink">PDF</a>) is aiming to "Push the boundaries by providing advancements in low observability capability and autonomous mission systems operations demonstrating the feasibility and utility of UAVs." Such a statement starts to push the idea of fully autonomous flight from science fiction into science fact, though we're still a long way off from having an actual real debate on fully autonomous drones fighting our battles and flying our skies. Potential Deployment: TBD, test flights have been delayed to 2012.
<strong>Type</strong>: Communications <strong>Description</strong>: Boeing's hydrogen-powered <a href="http://www.boeing.com/Features/2010/07/bds_feat_phantom_eye_07_12_10.html" target="_hplink">Phantom Eye</a> is a High Altitude Long Duration Craft designed to fly at <a href="http://www.boeing.com/Features/2011/11/bds_phantom_eye_11_16_11.html" target="_hplink">65,000 feet for up to four days</a>. <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Unknown
<strong>Type</strong>: Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) <strong>Description</strong>: <a href="http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Programs/Vulture.aspx" target="_hplink">DARPA's description</a> says the "Vulture technology enables a re-taskable, persistent pseudo-satellite capability, in an aircraft package." Basically, DARPA is attempting to develop a super long duration craft capable of five year continuous flight. Think about that - the Vulture is intended to fly for up to five years continuously. If it were to launch this year it would be in the air for two Olympics. <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Unknown
<strong>Type</strong>: Government Funded Space Exploration <strong>Description</strong>: While the proposal probably won't go through for this mission, this is an aerial drone we can really get behind. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/aviatr-probe-proposed-mission-titan_n_1184028.html" target="_hplink">AVIATR</a> would be a long distance drone that would fly the skies of Saturn's moon Titan. <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Beyond 2020
<strong>Type</strong>: Surveillance (Japan) <strong>Description</strong>: Techcrunch <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/25/video-japans-defense-ministry-develops-awesome-ball-shaped-drone/" target="_hplink">tells us</a> that the drone can "stand still in mid-air, fly vertically and horizontally through narrow spaces at up to 60km/h, and (which is very cool) keep on moving when it hits the ground or a wall. Thanks to three gyro sensors in its body, the machine can keep also flying even if it's hit by an obstacle." And all for only $1,400. <strong>Potential Deployment</strong>: Undisclosed