CIA drone strikes may now target Quetta

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Washington, Dec. 14 (ANI): The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has reportedly been asked to launch drone strikes beyond Pakistan's tribal region.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, senior Obama administration officials have told the CIA to target the city of Quetta, where Washington believes the Taliban leadership is ensconced.

According to the paper, the prospect of Predator strikes in Quetta, signals a new American resolve to annihilate the Taliban, but this also runs the risk of rupturing ties with Islamabad.

Tension prevails among Obama administration officials over whether an unmanned aircraft strike in a city of 850,000 is a realistic option. Those in favour, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta -- or at least threatening to do so-is critical to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.

But others, including high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, are more sceptical of employing drone attacks in a place that Pakistanis see as part of their country's core.

Pakistani officials, however, have warned that the fallout could be severe.

"We are not a banana republic. If the United States follows through, this might be the end of the road," a senior Pakistani official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.

U.S. and Pakistani officials have, however, stressed that Washington has stopped short of issuing an ultimatum to Pakistan, believing that heavy-handed tactics could turn out to be counter-productive.

"We have applied enormous pressure," a senior U.S. official was quoted, as saying.

American officials have said that they have presented Pakistan with a list of Taliban lieutenants and argued that, with a U.S. pullout scheduled to begin in 18 months, the urgency of dismantling the so-called Quetta shura is greater than at any time in the eight-year-old war.

The CIA has carried out dozens of Predator strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt over the last two years, relying extensively on information provided by informant networks run by Pakistan's spy service, Inter-Services Intelligence.

The campaign is credited with killing at least 10 senior Al Qaeda operatives since the pace of the strikes was accelerated in August 2008, but has enraged many Pakistanis because of civilian casualties.

The number of attacks has slowed in recent months. Possible causes include weather disruptions and difficulty in finding targets as the insurgents get better at eluding the Predator, and larger Reaper, drone patrols.

Of 48 attacks carried out this year, only six have taken place since the end of September, according to data compiled by the website The Long War Journal.

So far, the drone attacks have been confined to territories along Pakistan's northwestern border, regions essentially self-governed by Pashtun tribes. (ANI)

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