Telegraph: US to escalate drone attacks on Pakistan *

Telegraph
04.12.2009
By Javed Siddiq and Dean Nelson

Islamabad fears the CIA has been told to increase the number of missile attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets close to the Afghan border.

American leaders have publicly voiced their frustration at Pakistan’s failure to target Mullah Omar’s Balochistan base, from where he is believed to direct the war against Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his foreign minister Shah Mehmoud Qureshi both called for more details of President Obama’s surge plans and in particular how they will impact over the border.

They are concerned that an expansion of the campaign by unmanned Predator drones will cause anger throughout Pakistan and uproar in Balochistan itself where the government is already facing an armed revolt by separatists.

Abdul Basit, a foreign ministry spokesman, said there were limits to Pakistani co-operation, and the drone attacks were counterproductive.

“This has never been part of our discussions. There are clear redlines as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “We have clearly conveyed our redlines to them.”

The Pakistan government is believed to have a secret pact with United States in which the Americans are allowed to launch Predator strikes on the understanding that ministers will condemn the breach of its territorial sovereignty.

American officials claim an estimated 80 unmanned Predator air strikes have killed 400 militants, including Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, two Uzbek leaders and a number of al-Qaeda commanders.

Pakistani officials however say 700 civilian deaths have been caused by drone attacks while only two per cent of militant targets are killed. An opinion poll earlier this autumn found two-thirds of Pakistanis are opposed to the drone attacks, but they remain popular with the CIA for their ability to kill “high-value” targets without risking American lives.

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