CIA Drone Campaign in Pakistan Started With Two Dead Children and a Favor

360+ strikes later, no end in sight


photo from cia not available
Defense Department

An article in yesterday's New York Times, adapted from an excerpt of the Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti's new book on the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan, "The Way of the Knife", provides details on how the campaign started. With one targeted killing and at least three other simultaneous kills, including two boys, aged 10 and 16. From the Times:

The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but [Nek Muhammad,] a Pakistani ally of theTaliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.

That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.'s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.

The deal with Pakistan, struck in 2004, limited CIA drones to the tribal regions, along the Afghan borders, away from its own terror training camps. Since then, the CIA has conducted at least 366 strikes, killing at least 2,537 people, including 168 children. While the program began under George W. Bush, the vast majority of strikes (314 and counting) have occurred since President Obama took office in 2009. Mazzetti reports that George Tenet, the CIA director from 1997 to 2004, told the 9/11 commission he wasn't even sure the CIA should be operating weaponized drones. A decade later, the nominally secret program is the most prominent activity conducted by the CIA. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration's proposed rules for the use of drones, brought up only after his entire first term had passed, exempts the CIA's operations in Pakistan. 

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  1. You mean Pakistan approved of the US in its air space? That can’t be true. That doesn’t fit the narrative at all.

    1. You mean the Pakistani government is fine with the CIA killing whoever it wants so long as they get to add a name to the list here and there? Amazing! That fits the narrative of Pakistan being a corrupt doubledealing shithole perfectly!

      1. It doesn’t fit the narrative of the US waging an illegal war. If Pakistan approves of the strikes, then we are not engaging in a war with Pakistan are we?

        it would be nice you fuckers would pick a narrative and stick with it. But that would require thinking about the issue and caring about the truth.

        1. This is my complete lack of surprise. However, the issue is not that the CIA is conducting kill ops in Pakistan for the ISI with Pakistani gov’t approval. That’s great that Pakistan let the CIA run wild, but that still doesn’t mean the ops are legal under US law, John.

          I’m not taking a strong position on this one either way. Me, I still haven’t seen a credible answer as to why what the CIA is doing doesn’t fall under the proscription by execuitive order of assassination. Unless that has been modified and I missed it, the only answer I see is “because terrorists, fuck them!”

          Side note: I think the proscription of assassination is kind of dumb from a realpolitik sense.

        2. Actually there are multiple narratives because the problems with US drone policy are numerous. Not the least of which is that the CIA is an intelligence agency, not a military agency. So the fact that they’re engaging in pretty clearly warmaking actions is an illegal breach of their jurisdiction.

          That, by the way, is the first time I have ever invoked that particular narrative, but it’s still somehow both a factual truth and a valid criticism.

          1. Ehh. The CIA’s brief doesn’t proscribe direct action. Given the agency it grew out of, how could it? Ideally there’d be some celar cut line that says past here is military ops, before that is intelligence work. In the modern era of low-intensity conflict, I think that line is much harder to draw. I think it may be a good line to have for a number of reasons, but I don’t think it’s actually codified into law anywhere.

  2. helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.

    So good to see the Times is completely ignorant of the CIA’s long and glorious operational history of paramilitary involvement. I like it when people confirm my low opinion of them.

  3. I thought Obama was against killing children?

    1. You thought wrong. He only occasionally pretends to be when he can use their bodies as props to get gun control legislation passed here. Dead Pakistani children don’t serve that purpose, so fuck them.

    2. And yes, I realize you were being sarcastic. So was I.

      1. ‘Now who’s being naive Kay?’

  4. Jesus!

    So, the Bush administration decided to murder someone as a favor to the Paki govt?

    Yep, I see the CIA’s policy of hiring the scions of wealthy families who are attending Ivy League schools is paying the predictable dividends of stupidity and organizationally self-destructive incompetence.

  5. I eagerly await the denunciation of state sanctioned assassination by Dem. and Rep. leftists.


  6. Tribal disputes between the McCoys and Hatfills of the Stone Age foothills of Pakistan, settling of scores from the Cold War in the Yemen or going after terrorist who plot the killing of Americans, what difference does it make so long as the CIA makes its quota, and Pakistan can still fund and train soldiers for Islam in areas unmolested by our drones?

    1. “everyone hates the cave people”

    2. Its more like “disputes between whatever faction holds sway in Islamabad vs those they hold a grudge against in the Tribal Areas” – I have been saying for sometime that all this droning was a result of “one for you, one for me” – it is just a bit more apparent in Yemen than in Pakistan.

      What a deal with the Devil – I’d frickin’ end this crap now and tell the Paks and Yemenis that we aren’t going to be their internal hit men, any longer than we will remain semi-indiscriminate Hellfire shooters on our own.

  7. “…helped transform an agency […] into a paramilitary organization.”

    Those are all that exist now — pay no attention to the nomenclature.

  8. The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but [Nek Muhammad,] a Pakistani ally of the Taliban

    This is a distinction without much of a difference.

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