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Drone War Back Underway in Pakistan

On hold since November 16, Spencer Ackerman is reporting that the U.S. drone program is once again up and running in Pakistan. The program was halted because of a bloody firefight between American and Pakistani forces that sent relations between the two countries in a downward spiral. However, for the first time since, “a missile fired by a drone slammed into a North Waziristan target.” According to Ackerman, now that the pause is over don’t expect the drone war to go on sabbatical anytime soon:

2011 was the worst year for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship since 9/11. Not only did the bin Laden raid infuriate Pakistanis, but so did a CIA contractor who killed two in Lahore who apparently tried to rob him. Pakistan usually issues empty threats to vent popular outrage, but after the helicopter incident, it shut down logistics routes for the Afghanistan war and actually kicked the CIA out of a drone base on its soil.

And all that did was make the drone war take a knee. The drones now fly from Afghan bases; Pakistan notably did not deny the U.S. overflight rights after the helicopter incident. That’s still an option for the Pakistanis, theoretically. But absent some really big disaster — a botched U.S. raid inside Pakistan, maybe? — it’s hard to see what else the U.S. could do to prompt the Pakistanis to take more drastic steps.

Remember that the next time you read hype about the drone war “stopping.” The drone strikes are not a supplement to a war; they’re the centerpiece of how the Obama administration confronts terrorists. The White House’s plan for counterterrorism makes that clear, as does the Pentagon’s new strategy blueprint. Anonymous administration officials, evidently itching to get back to the strikes, floated the (evidence-free) proposition in the New York Times that terrorists were regrouping during the six-week pause.

Perhaps elements of the Pakistani security establishment are back on board with the drones, perhaps they aren’t. But the resumption of the drone strikes strongly indicates that if the Pakistanis have a problem with the strikes, the U.S. will route around that problem. Any pauses you see in the drone program are likely to be tactical — and brief.

Image via The Telegraph

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