At the same time the Pakistani public was decrying the CIA's use of drone strikes in their country, Pakistan's top army general was asking a top U.S. official in behind-the-scenes meetings for more drones to help during military operations, according to a leaked U.S. State Department cable published online today.
"Referring to the situation in Waziristan, [Pakistani General Ashfaq] Kayani asked if [U.S. Admiral William] Fallon could assist in providing continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area. Fallon regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request," says the February 2008 cable posted by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Waziristan is a mountainous region in northwest Pakistan that borders Afghanistan.
While the U.S. State Department by policy does not verify the contents of leaked secret cables, the Pakistani military responded to news reports on the drone request today, saying Pakistan has never asked for armed drone attack support "for our operations which have been conducted using our own resources." There has only been sharing of technical intelligence in some areas, the spokesperson said.
During the specific operation to which the cable refers -- a military operation in Waziristan from 2008 to 2010 -- "not even outside technical support was asked for," the spokesperson said.
The cable does not make it clear if Pakistan was requesting the drones for surveillance or direct strikes. In 2008, U.S. Gen. David McKiernan revealed that the U.S. military does at times share direct video links from drones with its Afghan and Pakistani counterparts.
However, in the exchange directly following the denied drone request from Kayani, Fallon and Kayani discuss other options including using American training to help Pakistan build a "night-capable, air-to-ground capability in the Pakistani Army." When the U.S. Air Force discusses "air-to-ground capability," it generally refers to the ability to attack surface targets.
At the time of the operations, the Pakistani government was thought to have only given the controversial drone program tacit approval behind closed doors due to the public outcry that often followed deadly strikes. In November 2008, Pakistan summoned then U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson to protest drone strikes that killed at least 20 in the three months prior.
Then, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani told Pakistan's National Assembly the missile attacks were "intolerable," according to a report by Reuters.
Despite continued public protests, the Agency has kept up the program which was started under former President Bush and continues today -- including an attack that reportedly killed three militants in North Waziristan earlier today.
Also included in the new batch of leaked cables is an alleged 2008 admission by Pakistani National Security Advisor Mahmood Durrani that the Pakistani government, while not involved directly in the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, did "have some contacts with bad guys and perhaps one of them did it."