Despite US-Pakistan Tensions Aired at CIA HQ, CIA Drone Strike Will Continue, Officials Say

Apr 12, 2011 4:55pm

Jake Tapper and Nick Schifrin report:

In a meeting with CIA director Leon Panetta on Monday, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, expressed concern about the nature of drone activity operations, sources tell ABC News.

But despite that concern, the drone attacks will continue, US sources say.

“Panetta has an obligation to protect this country and he’s not going to halt any operations that accomplish that objective,” a US official tells ABC News.

Panetta and Pasha met in Panetta’s office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for two hours and 25 minutes, after which Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen joined them for lunch in an adjacent dining room.

In their meeting sources say, Panetta and Pasha worked through a number of issues regarding joint operations and working together against terrorist targets.

The relationship between the US and Pakistan has been strained in recent months. The CIA’s predator drone program has slowed, launching 10 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the last two and a half months, since CIA contractor Ray Davis was imprisoned after killing two Pakistanis — the same number of drone strikes as in just the last two weeks of 2010.

Sources say that Pakistan’s government has knowledge of drone operations, with Pakistani government and military officials informed essentially as targets are fired upon or shortly thereafter.

US officials say there haven’t been civilian casualties from the drone operations since at least last August.  But this is in dispute, and some Pakistani officials regularly complain that the strikes hit civilians. But thanks in part to better intelligence and smaller missiles, according to Western officials and analysts, the drone program is much more accurate than it was when it began almost 7 years ago.

Some U.S. officials believe that within Pakistan, the ISI is hyping the rift in order to score political points. These officials say a recent story suggesting that all cooperation between the agencies stopped was overwritten – and a leak designed to convince an increasingly anti-American Pakistani public that the ISI was showing the CIA who’s boss, so to speak.

Sources say Pasha didn’t “scold” the US, as some have depicted it, though he did elaborate on how the Davis case has become such a hot button issue in Pakistan, something the U.S. already knew. Pakistani officials believe the case increased public anger at the United States, which reduces the ISI’s ability to work with the CIA.

Sources also say that Pasha didn’t push back when Panetta said the US needs to have operatives in country to provide security. Pasha knows and wants US intelligence officers there; the US and ISI work together.  Davis was providing security to a team of intelligence officials when he killed the Pakistanis, who according to four Pakistani officials were working for the ISI at the time.

ISI officials are especially concerned that American operatives are investigating militant groups with whom the ISI has long had ties, including Lashkar-e-Taiba.

-Jake Tapper at the White House and Nick Schifrin in Islamabad

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