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U.S. secretly shared files on drones with Pakistan

  • Article by: Greg Miller and Bob Woodward
  • Washington Post
  • October 24, 2013 - 8:40 PM

– Despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA’s drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan’s government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts, according to top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos obtained by the Washington Post.

The files describe dozens of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region and include maps as well as before-and-after aerial photos of targeted compounds over a four-year stretch from 2008 to 2011 in which the campaign intensified dramatically.

Markings on the documents indicate that many of them were prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center specifically to be shared with Pakistan’s government. They tout the success of strikes that killed dozens of alleged Al-Qaida operatives and assert repeatedly that no civilians were harmed.

Pakistan’s tacit approval of the drone program has been one of the more poorly kept national security secrets in Washington and Islamabad. During the early years of the campaign, the CIA even used Pakistani airstrips for its Predator fleet.

But the files expose the explicit nature of a secret arrangement struck between the two countries at a time when neither was willing to publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program. The documents detailed at least 65 strikes in Pakistan and were described as “talking points” for CIA briefings, which occurred with such regularity that they became a matter of diplomatic routine. The documents are marked “top secret” but cleared for release to Pakistan.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. A CIA spokesman declined to discuss the documents but did not dispute their authenticity.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his country’s objections to the drone campaign this week during his first visit to Washington since taking office this year.

CIA strikes “have deeply disturbed and agitated our people,” Sharif said in a speech Tuesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “This issue has become a major irritant in our bilateral relationship as well. I will, therefore, stress the need for an end to drone attacks.”

He raised the issue in a meeting Wednesday with President Obama, “emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes.” Sharif did not publicly elaborate on how Pakistan would seek to halt a campaign that has tapered off but remains a core part of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy.

The records expose the distrust and dysfunction that has afflicted U.S.-Pakistani relations even amid their undeclared collaboration on drone strikes.

There have been 23 strikes in Pakistan this year, far below the peak number of 117 attacks in 2010. The strikes have killed thousands of militants. The number of civilian casualties, on the other hand, has long been a source of dispute between the two countries.

© 2014 Star Tribune