U.S. policy continuity: More Predator strikes on Qaeda, Taliban targets in Pakistan

While yesterday’s reports about the Pakistani agreement with the Taliban in the Swat district, part of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province not far from Islamabad, is a worrisome sign of the continued reluctance of Pakistani leaders to crack down on extremists.  But Pakistan’s rulers for decades have run hot and cold about radicals and jihadists.  President Obama is about to find out just how hard it is to wage war in Afghanistan with such lukewarm “allies” next door where al Qaeda and others are able to shelter.

Be that as it may, there are encouraging signs that Obama and his team, faced with tough realities instead of politically correct fantasies are finding continuity with established US policies more to their liking than “change,” except in “tone.”

One such sign was the new attack by US missiles inside Pakitan the other day.  No sooner did President Obama’s Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan complete his first visit to the region as part of a policy review than C.I.A.-operated Predator drone aircraft again fired missiles at al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan. This time, the targets were two compounds in the South Waziristan tribal area, one linked to Pakistani Taliban kingpin Baitullah Mehsud. Among other things, the Pakistani government has charged Mehsud with being responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The Taliban said that most of the 25 people lled in the strikes were “Uzbek mujahideen,” according to Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper. Uzbek nationals have often been among al Qaeda fighters in the region.

This was the third Predator strike inside Pakistani territory since Obama became President. Pakistani politicians have vocally objected to the attacks as violations of Pakistani sovereignty that risked killing civilians. Holbrooke heard these complaints again when he visited Pakistan a week ago. Yet, the U.S. launched another attack.

Interestingly, the attacks also came on the heels of the apparent revelation by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, that Predator drones operate out of a base in Pakistan. Feinstein said so during testimony by the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. Blair did not confirm her statement, and Pakistan’s Defense Minister denied it.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the U.S. and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are on the same page about this — perhaps after discussions involving Holbrooke — even though Pakistan wants to pretend otherwise. Feinstein’s very public, but unconfirmed revelation, may have been a way for the U.S. to hint at the cooperation while leaving Pakistan room to deny it. In any case, it is clear that American policy has not changed. The U.S. will continue to seek out and attack al Qaeda and its allies inside Pakistan.

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