US Drone Strikes return to Pakistan — and imminently to Iraq?

miranshah_400US drone strikes resumed this week in Pakistan with the first strike taking place on Wednesday evening near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. This was quickly followed by a second strike early Thursday morning, although as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) reports there is some confusion about the details of the second strike. The strikes are the first in Pakistan since 25 December 2013 – a five and half month ‘pause’.

It is thought that the pause has been in place to allow negotiation between the Pakistan government and the Pakistani Taliban to take place. While anonymous US officials have given credence to this suggestion at the same times others have dismissed it. Many have noted that the first strikes have taken place just days after a significant Taliban attack on Karachi airport – an obvious and symbolic end to any peace negotiations. However they have also taken place soon after the release of Bowe Bergdahl in a prisoner exchange. It is certainly feasible that the ‘pause’ was in fact part of the prisoner exchange negotiations. It should be remembered that the previous long pause in drone strikes in Pakistan were in order to obtain the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis.

Whatever the reason for the pause, the strikes are back. What remains to be seen is whether they will return to the same level of frequency as in the past, particularly with the withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan having an impact on the ability of the CIA to undertake such strikes.

Pakistan immediately issued a condemnatory statement saying:

The Government of Pakistan condemns the two incidents of US drone strikes that took place near Miranshah in North Waziristan on 11 and 12 June. These strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, these strikes have a negative impact on the Government’s efforts to bring peace and stability in Pakistan and the region.

However other commentators point out that questions remain about Pakistani government support for the strikes with Pakistan officials telling Reuters that ‘Islamabad had given the Americans “express approval” for the strikes.’

US Drone strikes may also be about to return to Iraq.

The collapse of the Iraqi military in the face of an offensive by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and Sunni militants has caused shockwaves with US President Barack Obama saying that there are “short-term, immediate things that will need to be done militarily — and our national security team is looking at all the options”. While officials made it clear that this did not mean ‘boots on the ground’ (indeed US troops and contractors are being evacuated from Iraq) it appears that air strikes are being contemplated.

Significantly the Wall Street Journal reported anonymous US officials leaking the news that US drones have been “secretly flying unmanned surveillance aircraft in small numbers over Iraq to collect intelligence on insurgents” since last year. While the US administration is extremely reluctant to send troops to Iraq – today’s NYT editorial urges President Obama not to get “sucked into another round of war in Iraq” – it is highly likely that US military aircraft and drones will return to Iraqi skies as they have done to Pakistani skies.