By Dan Gettinger
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that, over the past month, the U.S. government has cut back on the number of drone strikes before peace talks begin between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). According to unnamed American officials quoted by the Post, the Pakistani government requested a hold on the strikes in order to avoid endangering the peace talks, which were set to begin on Tuesday. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January was the first month in two years to go by without a single American drone strike. The previous known strike occurred on December 25, 2013, when at least three militants were killed.
The last attempt by Pakistan to engage in negotiations with the Taliban was derailed by an American drone strike on November 1, 2013, which killed TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud. In response to a string of drone strikes and the resulting breakdown of peace talks, massive protests erupted around Peshawar, Pakistan, led by opposition leader Imran Khan. The protests, which expanded to other cities across Pakistan, lasted for weeks and blocked NATO supply trucks from reaching Afghanistan. According to Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller at the Post, the curtailment of drone strikes in Pakistan over the past month is an attempt to rebuild the fragile ties with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The future of U.S. targeted killing operations in Pakistan is in a precarious position. On the one hand, American intelligence agencies are worried that, if the United States were to completely withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year, they might lose the airfields which house the Predator and Reaper drones. On the other hand, President Obama is facing criticism from Congress over the limits he imposed on drone strikes in the May 23, 2013, speech at the National Defense University. After a hearing on global threats on Tuesday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters that the restrictions have led to “missed opportunities that I believe increased the risk of the lives of our soldiers.”