Feb 17, 2014
US searches new bases for drones strike in Pakistan after leaving Afghanistan
The CIA’s capability to gather sufficient intelligence to find Al-Qaeda operatives and quickly launch drone missiles at specific targets in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal region will be greatly diminished if the spy agency loses its drone bases in Afghanistan.
The CIA’s targeted killing program thus may prove a casualty of the bitter standoff with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over whether any U.S. troops can remain in Afghanistan after 2014, as the White House has sought. Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement to permit a long-term American deployment, and some White House aides are arguing for a complete pullout.
The CIA cannot fly drones from its Afghan drone bases without US military protection. If the bases are evacuated, the CIA fleet of armed Predator and Reaper drones could be moved to airfields north of Afghanistan.
The CIA and the military used an air base in Uzbekistan to conduct drone flights until the U.S. was evicted in 2005.
The military also has used a base in Kyrgyzstan to conduct air operations, including moving troops and supplies into Afghanistan. The Pentagon said last fall that it would shift those operations to Romania this summer.
Drone strikes in Pakistan have grown less frequent — 28 last year, down from 117 in 2010 — and more precise.
But the ability to act quickly, without harming civilians, would suffer if the CIA was forced to leave the area.
Outside a war zone, the military normally requires an invitation from the host country. The CIA drone campaign is covert. Pakistan consents through back channels, while formally protesting the strikes in diplomatic forums and at the United Nations. That arrangement could pose a legal problem if the U.S. military takes over drone strikes, officials say.
In any case, Congress has balked at handing CIA drone strikes to the military. Key lawmakers favor keeping the CIA program active, especially for Pakistan.