The American ambassador to Islamabad, Cameron Munter, phone Washington with an urgent request: Stop an immanent CIA drone strike against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, fearing the timing of the attack, which was one day after the government freed a CIA contractor (Raymond Davis). The then head of the CIA Leon Panetta dismissed it, stating that the militants were high value targets, whereas others suspected he was driven by anger at Pakistan’s imprisonment of Davis.
The deadly March 17 attack, which Pakistanis claim killed 28 civilians, helped further deteriorate U.S.-Pakistan relations. Seven years into the secret program, many question whether it has been worth the diplomatic backlash (not to mention the likely ‘blowback’ in years to come). That tension was clearly visible between Ambassador Munter and the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who recently left his post because of ‘ illness’.
The former aide said the strike reflected the CIA’s anger at the ISI, which it blamed for keeping Davis in prison for seven weeks.
“It was in retaliation for Davis,” the aide said. “The CIA was angry.”
U.S. officials said the CIA tracked the militants driving to the meeting and decided rather than targeting just the car, they would wait to get the entire assembled party. In a rare public statement, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the jirga “was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life.”
ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha took the strike as a personal insult because he had stepped in to get Davis released, Pakistani officials said.
The strike hampered counterterrorism cooperation between the CIA and the ISI, and the Pakistani government started sending U.S. military trainers home — a process that accelerated after the raid that killed bin Laden.
More generally, the drone strikes highlight the tension between the CIA and the State department. Drone strikes followed immediately followed a trip to Washington in April by Pakistani spy chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha; a mid-May trip to Pakistan by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to smooth over relations in the wake of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden; and U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s trip to Pakistan at the end of May.
The CIA is increasingly the new face of foreign relations.