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Army chief wanted more drone support

Published May 19, 2011 09:06pm


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In another meeting with US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen over March 3-4, 2008, Kayani was asked for his help “in approving a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA.” The request - detailed in a cable sent from the US Embassy Islamabad on March 24 - clearly indicates that two ‘corridors’ for US drones had already been approved earlier. - File Photo (Thumbnail illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/

KARACHI: Secret internal American government cables, accessed by Dawn through WikiLeaks, provide confirmation that the US military’s drone strikes programme within Pakistan had more than just tacit acceptance of the country’s top military brass, despite public posturing to the contrary. In fact, as long ago as January 2008, the country’s military was requesting the US for greater drone back-up for its own military operations.

Previously exposed diplomatic cables have already shown that Pakistan’s civilian leaders are strongly supportive - in private - of the drone strikes on alleged militant targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), even as they condemn them for general consumption. But it is not just the civilian leadership that has been following a duplicitous policy on the robotic vehicles.

In a meeting on January 22, 2008 with US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani requested the Americans to provide “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” in South Waziristan where the army was conducting operations against militants. The request is detailed in a ‘Secret’ cable sent by then US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 11, 2008. Pakistan’s military has consistently denied any involvement in the covert programme run mainly by the CIA.

The American account of Gen Kayani’s request for “Predator coverage” does not make clear if mere air surveillance were being requested or missile-armed drones were being sought. Theoretically “Predator coverage” could simply mean air surveillance and not necessarily offensive support. However the reaction to the request suggests otherwise. According to the report of the meeting sent back to Washington by Patterson, Admiral Fallon “regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request” but offered trained US Marines (known as JTACs) to coordinate air strikes for Pakistani infantry forces on ground. General Kayani “demurred” on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground “would not be politically acceptable.”

In another meeting with US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen over March 3-4, 2008, Kayani was asked for his help “in approving a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA.” The request - detailed in a cable sent from the US Embassy Islamabad on March 24 - clearly indicates that two ‘corridors’ for US drones had already been approved earlier.

In secret cable on October 9, 2009 (previously published by WikiLeaks), Ambassador Patterson reports that US military support to the Pakistan Army’s 11th Corps operations in South Waziristan would “be at the division-level and would include a live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video.” In fact, in November 2008, Dawn had reported then commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, telling its reporter that US and Pakistan also share video feeds from Predator drones that carry out attacks. “We have a Predator feed going down to the one border coordination centre at Torkham Gate thats looked at by the Pakistan Military, Afghan Military, and the International Security Assistance Force,” General McKiernan had said.

Sharing of video feeds does not imply operational control by Pakistan’s military, however, and even this sharing may have subsequently been suspended.

Despite the occasionally disastrously misdirected attacks which have fed into the public hue and cry over civilian casualties, there is, in private, seeming general acceptance by the military of the efficacy of drone strikes. In a cable dated February 19, 2009, Ambassador Patterson sends talking points to Washington ahead of a week-long visit to the US by COAS Kayani. Referring to drone strikes, she writes: “Kayani knows full well that the strikes have been precise (creating few civilian casualties) and targeted primarily at foreign fighters in the Waziristans.”

Another previously unpublished cable dated May 26, 2009 details President Zardari’s meeting on May 25 with an American delegation led by Senator Patrick Leahy. “Referring to a recent drone strike in the tribal area that killed 60 militants,” wrote Ambassador Patterson in her report, “Zardari reported that his military aide believed a Pakistani operation to take out this site would have resulted in the deaths of over 60  Pakistani soldiers.”

The general support for drone strikes from both the military and civilian leadership is also evidenced by the continuous demand, documented over numerous cables, from Pakistan Government officials to American interlocutors for drone technology to be placed in Pakistani hands. The issue conveyed to the Americans is not so much that of accuracy as that of managing public perceptions.

In the meeting with Senator Leahy, Zardari is directly quoted telling the US delegation to “give me the drones so my forces can take out the militants.”  That way, he explains, “we cannot be criticized by the media or anyone else for actions our Army takes to protect our sovereignty.”

General Kayani also “focused on the need for surveillance assets” in the meeting with Admiral Fallon according to Patterson’s cable. “Kayani said he was not interested in acquiring Predators, but was interested in tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs).” Predators are considered ‘theatre-level’ technology able to cover wide regions such as the whole of Afghanistan and Pakistan through remotely stationed operations rooms while ‘tactical’ drones are less wide-ranging and can be operated by forces on the ground.

After the first US drone strike outside the tribal areas, in Bannu on November 19, 2008 which killed four people including an alleged senior Al Qaeda member, Ambassador Patterson had presciently noted in another previously unpublished cable (dated November 24, 2008) the dangers of keeping the Pakistani public misinformed. “As the gap between private GOP acquiescence and public condemnation for US action grows,” she wrote back to Washington, “Pakistani leaders who feel they look increasingly weak to their constituents could begin considering stronger action against the US, even though the response to date has focused largely on ritual denunciation.”

Cables Referenced: WikiLeaks # 140777, 147015, 179645, 192895, 208526, 229065. All cables can be viewed on

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Comments (28) Closed

Safar May 20, 2011 07:42am
What makes anyone feel that wikileak cables are the truth? These cables are US views/interpretations. Now these same cables are being spinned to support US views.
Amarnath May 20, 2011 08:54am
Voila Dawn!! You are the only other group in South Asia after TheHindu to get access to Assange's trove Your commitment to truth will bear fruit!! Satyamevajayate
Muhammad Azeem May 20, 2011 10:08am
I think drone attacks are really helpful for eliminating terrorists from far flung areas of north and south Wazirastan.Their leaders travel in all those areas and our army cannot check them.The rightest political parties will always co operate with them and provide them material and political support.
mirza May 20, 2011 10:35am
very interesting story! so fooling the common men either by the politicians or the military top guns!
Sarah Farrukh May 20, 2011 11:57am
if this is true this is a big shame :(
Aftab Kenneth Wilson May 20, 2011 12:32pm
I hope this will stop string pulling from behind the heavy curtains. Good job done by DAWN and WikiLeaks.
zain May 20, 2011 01:08pm
i am not surprised by reading this. i already knew it. pakistan army is equally responsible for drones attacks
Ahmer Iqbak May 20, 2011 01:14pm
Drone ATTACK and drone COVERAGE are two separate things. Coverage is an intelligence gathering that we require prior to any action. If our armed forces are taking intelligence or live images from the coverages to increase the efficient and effectivity of their own missions, what is the issue? Don't we all use Google Earth to amuse ourselves? However this does not mean that we should use the COVERAGE as an excuse to ATTACK as well. Drone attacks should be stopped as they prove to be counter productive.
Najam May 20, 2011 02:06pm
Wikileaks cables only prove what many of us have known all along. they show how the chain of command works. Thank you Dawn for opening our eyes
Aniruddha May 20, 2011 02:14pm
To be very fair i am an Indian, i believe that Pakistani citizen need to take things in their hand as How it took place in India as of the recent elections in TN and WB, be very proactive and alert. You are the nation of high calibre, maintain it.
shabahat waqar May 20, 2011 02:45pm
this very shame to us as a nation when our nation open our eyes
A free soul May 20, 2011 03:57pm
Another effort to malign Pakistan Army's image...May Allah keeps us protected and blessed..ameen
MrRedZone May 20, 2011 04:22pm
dude its not an effort to malign Pak army, bt it z showing u the real image...and u know the main reason for our failure is that v dont accept the reality...
MrRedZone May 20, 2011 04:28pm
I agree abt the information collection bt strictly against the drone either if they are productive r not..bcoz as sovereign state with the worlds fifth largest amry i feel ashamed wen somebdy strikes in my coutry
Habibies May 20, 2011 04:44pm
Thank you Dawn for opening our eyes..........
Muneer May 20, 2011 05:00pm
When will we open our eyes ?
siddique May 20, 2011 07:46pm
Thank you DAWN to publish these cables. you performed your responsibility and opened the eyes of viewers. A good contribution for journalism.
samar May 20, 2011 08:24pm
why dawn did not publish this before abtabad?why now?
Tariq y May 20, 2011 08:55pm
When are getting more leaks from Wiki to disclose more secrets of Army and the govt that are still hidden from the people of Pakistan. MR WIKI tell us, Did pakistani ISI, Army and the govt allowed USA to carry out the mission in abbotabad ? , because they knew that OBL is there and they are helpless.
Nasr KiKi May 20, 2011 11:32pm
Have we fallen that much? It does seems so. Given if this is so then where as a nation we are heading for?
Tatheer Hussain Skar May 21, 2011 04:09am
well i think its common sense what ever the rumor is we as a nation should act on people who are destabilizing the country. rid of the government should be in every corner of the country. If you have that then im sure there wont be any drone strikes. The US has a reason to strike with drones in North Waziristan because there are external extremist elements who are hiding there. we should deal with internal threats first then focus on external threats. we should not give out reasons for other countries to manipulate terms.
saim Ali May 21, 2011 03:08pm
I am 100% agree with should realize!
khalid May 21, 2011 08:03pm
What makes anyone feel that wikileak cables are the truth? this may be another conspiracy by the americians
Ashamed May 21, 2011 10:14pm
So, even the Army had been part of it all along. Thanks to Dawn for opening our eyes.
ThirdWorldCharlie May 22, 2011 06:36am
Given them money and they will dance, Pakistani elite that is. Be they are of Army, Politician or others. Such is the nature of Pakistanis.
Chilli May 22, 2011 10:51pm
Nothing new for us. This only confirmed our doubts. Dollars are more strong than your faith. We are feeling more insecure than ever after knowing about our defenders.
khurram May 23, 2011 11:17pm
Take back the extensions for both these agency guys atleast.
humsufer May 24, 2011 06:42am
Why does so many people doubt this? we intelligent people! why are we being taken for a ride. This is truth these are genuine cables and that is why the government is tight lipped and give senseless answers. Face it these guys wanted the Drone attacks