'Pak army followed a 'duplicitous policy' on drone strikes'

'Pak army followed a 'duplicitous policy' on drone strikes'

The cables provide confirmation that the US military's drone programme within Pakistan had "more than just tacit acceptance of the country's top military brass, despite public posturing to the contrary", the Dawn newspaper reported today.

Diplomatic cables previously exposed by WikiLeaks showed that Pakistan's civilian leaders were supportive in private of the drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) even as they condemned them in public.

However, it was not just the civilian leadership that has been following a "duplicitous policy" on the unmanned spy planes, the report said.

In a meeting on January 22, 2008 with US Central Command chief Admiral William J Fallon, Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani requested the Americans to provide "continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area" in South Waziristan where his force was conducting operations against militants.

The request was detailed in a cable sent by then US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 11, 2008.

Pakistan's military has consistently denied any involvement in the covert drone programme run by the CIA.

The US cable did not make if Kayani was seeking aerial surveillance or missile-armed drones.

According to the cable, Fallon "regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request" but offered trained US Marines to coordinate air strikes for Pakistani infantry forces on the ground.

Kayani "demurred" on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground "would not be politically acceptable."

In another meeting with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen during March 3-4, 2008, Kayani was asked for his help "in approving a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA."

The request, detailed in a cable sent from the US Embassy in Islamabad on March 24, 2008, clearly indicated that two "corridors" for US drones had been approved earlier.

In another cable sent on October 9, 2009, Ambassador Patterson reports the US military support to the Pakistan Army's 11th Corps' operations in South Waziristan would "be at the division-level and would include a live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video".

The then commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen David McKiernan, had said in November 2008 that US and Pakistan shared video feeds from Predator drones.

"We have a Predator feed going down to the one border coordination centre at Torkham Gate that's looked at by the Pakistan military, Afghan military and the International Security Assistance Force," McKiernan had said.

Despite occasionally misdirected attacks that fuelled public anger over civilian casualties, there is "seeming general acceptance by the military of the efficacy of drone strikes", the Dawn reported.

In a cable dated February 19, 2009, Ambassador Patterson sent talking points to Washington ahead of a week-long visit to the US by Kayani.

Referring to drone strikes, she wrote, "Kayani knows full well that the strikes have been precise (creating few civilian casualties) and targeted primarily at foreign fighters in the Waziristans".

In another cable dated May 26, 2009 on President Asif Ali Zardari's meeting with an US delegation led by Senator Patrick Leahy, Patterson wrote, "Referring to a recent drone strike in the tribal area that killed 60 militants, Zardari reported that his military aide believed a Pakistani operation to take out this site would have resulted in the deaths of over 60 Pakistani soldiers."

Numerous cables quote Pakistan government officials asking their US interlocutors to place drone technology in Pakistani hands.

The issue conveyed to the Americans is "not so much that of accuracy as that of managing public perceptions", the report said.

In the meeting with Leahy, Zardari is quoted telling the US delegation to "give me the drones so my forces can take out the militants."

That way, he explains, "we cannot be criticised by the media or anyone else for actions our army takes to protect our sovereignty".

Gen Kayani too "focused on the need for surveillance assets" in the meeting with Admiral Fallon, according to Patterson's cable.

"Kayani said he was not interested in acquiring Predators, but was interested in tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs)".

Predators are considered "theatre-level" technology able to cover wide regions while tactical drones are less wide-ranging and can be operated by forces on the ground.

After the first US drone strike outside the tribal areas, in Bannu on November 19, 2008 which killed four people including an alleged senior Al Qaida member, Patterson noted in a cable dated November 24, 2008 the dangers of keeping the Pakistani public misinformed.

"As the gap between private (government of Pakistan) acquiescence and public condemnation for US action grows, Pakistani leaders who feel they look increasingly weak to their constituents could begin considering stronger action against the US, even though the response to date has focused largely on ritual denunciation," she wrote.

A resolution passed by Pakistan's parliament in the wake of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden warned Islamabad would consider cutting off transit access for  supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan if the US continued drone strikes in the tribal areas.

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