The CIA-ISI cooperation on drones reflects one of the major contradictions that have long infected relations between the United States and Pakistan.
The United States has regularly praised the ISI for helping to capture and kill key al Qaida operatives, including those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But senior U.S. officials also have charged that elements in the ISI support the Afghan Taliban and allied insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Neither the ISI nor the army high commander were told in advance of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, for fear he’d be tipped off and escape. At the same time, the U.S. has provided billions to Pakistan in military aid and assistance to stabilize democracy and help secure its nuclear weapons.
For their part, Pakistani officials deny that the ISI supports Afghan insurgents. For years, the Pakistani army has spurned U.S. demands that it close their sanctuaries, contending that its counterterrorism cooperation with the United States has cost the lives of tens of thousands of security forces and civilians. And the army has declared its support for the civilian leadership’s position on drone strikes.
“As far as drone attacks are concerned, (the) army has repeatedly conveyed to all concerned that these are not acceptable under any circumstances. There is no room for ambiguity in this regard,” the military’s top commanders said in a June 9, 2011, statement.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington said, “We forcefully contest” that there was any collaboration between the ISI and CIA on drone strikes.
In its limited disclosures about the secret drone program, the Obama administration has said drones only are used to eliminate confirmed “senior operational leaders” of al Qaida and “associated groups” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans and can’t be captured.
The U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy covered most – though not all – of the drone strikes in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011. Several listed casualty estimates as well as the names of targeted militant groups. Most were against al Qaida. But they also targeted the Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents, several factions of the Pakistani Taliban and groups identified only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”
While the Pakistani Taliban works closely with al Qaida, it wasn’t formed until 2007. Also, many U.S. officials never took seriously its occasional threats to stage attacks inside the United States, and the group is not known to have initiated any operations against the U.S. homeland. It did provide perfunctory training and funds to a Pakistani American who staged a failed car-bombing in New York’s Times Square on May 2, 2010, but he admitted seeking them out.
The Pakistani government, which resigned last month in advance of May 11 national elections, for years publicly insisted that it opposed U.S. drone strikes, and it frequently delivered official and unofficial protests to the United States.
In a statement after a March 11-13 visit to Pakistan, Ben Emmerson, a British lawyer who is leading a U.N. investigation into civilian casualties caused by drones, said that the Pakistani government “emphasized its consistently stated position that drone strikes on its territory are counterproductive, contrary to international law, a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that they should cease immediately.”