Pakistan has told the White House it no longer will permit U.S. drones to use its airspace to attack militants and collect intelligence on al-Qaeda and other groups, according to officials involved in the talks.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the drone program is classified, called the use of unmanned aerial vehicles such as San Diego-based General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator and its MQ-9 Reaper a critical element in the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism strategy.
Eliminating drone missions would “contribute to a resurgence of extremist groups operating in the tribal areas” along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century,” said in an interview.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Antony Blinken on March 9 and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end, officials involved said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were private.
Pakistan’s sovereignty over its airspace and the civilian casualties that have resulted from drone strikes are emotional issues in Pakistan, where public opinion heavily favors terminating drone missions, Pakistani officials say.
The U.S. will try to reach an accommodation with Pakistani leaders, two American officials said. The U.S. gave Pakistan $4.4 billion in economic assistance, counterinsurgency funding and military reimbursements in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The only chance for a compromise, Pakistani officials said, may be if the U.S. agrees to share intelligence and coordinate strikes first, a strategy Pakistan has long advocated. The U.S. has resisted giving information to Pakistan in advance because of fears that some in Pakistan’s security forces might warn the targets of impending strikes.