A curious --- and telling --- juxtaposition of stories this morning about the US use of drones for "targeted" killings in Pakistan.
The Associated Press posted a breaking story on Monday afternoon:
Pakistan has criticized a pair of NATO airstrikes on its territory that killed over 50 militants, saying they were a violation of its sovereignty.
U.S. officials have said they have an agreement that allows aircraft to cross a few miles (kilometers) into Pakistani airspace if they are in hot pursuit of a target.
But Pakistan denied Monday such an agreement exists. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release Monday that the mandate of foreign troops in Afghanistan ends at the Afghan border.
Pakistan said that unless corrective measures are implemented, it will have to "consider response options."
The airstrikes occurred Saturday in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area after militants attacked a small Afghan security post near the border.
Pretty big story, right? It's just another case of how the US airstrikes, whether they are killing bad guys or civilians, are raising the issue of Pakistani sovereignty. Of course, Islamabad could be making its protest for the cameras --- an earlier version of the AP story said, "The Pakistani military could not be reached to comment on the NATO attacks" --- but still this seems a matter for consideration.
The C.I.A. has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks, American officials said. The strikes are part of an effort by military and intelligence operatives to try to cripple the Taliban in a stronghold being used to plan attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
As part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.
The strikes also reflect mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants from their bases in the country’s western mountains. In particular, the officials said, the Americans believe the Pakistanis are unlikely to launch military operations inside North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and Qaeda operatives that has long been used as a base for attacks against troops in Afghanistan.
Beyond the C.I.A. drone strikes, the war in the region is escalating in other ways. In recent days, American military helicopters have launched three airstrikes into Pakistan that military officials estimate killed more than 50 people suspected of being members of the militant group known as the Haqqani network, which is responsible for a spate of deadly attacks against American troops.
Such air raids by the military remain rare, and officials in Kabul said Monday that the helicopters entered Pakistani airspace on only one of the three raids, and acted in self-defense after militants fired rockets at an allied base just across the border in Afghanistan. At the same time, the strikes point to a new willingness by military officials to expand the boundaries of the campaign against the Taliban and Haqqani network — and to an acute concern in military and intelligence circles about the limited time to attack Taliban strongholds while American “surge” forces are in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials have angrily criticized the helicopter attacks, saying that NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan does not extend across the border in Pakistan.
As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials.
“Petraeus wants to turn up the heat on the safe havens,” said one senior administration official, explaining the sharp increase in drone strikes. “He has pointed out to the Pakistanis that they could do more.”
Special Operations commanders have also been updating plans for cross-border raids, which would require approval from President Obama. For now, officials said, it remains unlikely that the United States would make good on such threats to send American troops over the border, given the potential blowback inside Pakistan, an ally.
But that could change, they said, if Pakistan-based militants were successful in carrying out a terrorist attack on American soil....
OK, so Mark Mazzetti and David Sanger finally get to that difficult question of relations between Washington and Islamabad, given that the US is taking out dozens of people on Pakistani soil, but notice how carefully they tread.
The opening paragraph makes clear that this is an operation --- implying, in my opinion, that it is a necessary operation --- against the "Taliban" and to prevent "possible terrorist attacks". Then, almost to forestall the response that might come from Islamabad, the story declares the "mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough" in its approach.
And, while the article adds reassurances --- airstrikes that take out 50 people "are rare"; no US ground invasion imminent --- notice the caveat from US officials, which goes beyond any minor consideration of Pakistani opinion: "[This] could change...if Pakistan-based militants were successful in carrying out a terrorist attack on American soil."