Washington: A nearly two-month pause in US drone strikes in Pakistan has helped al Qaeda and several other militant factions in the country to regroup as well as increase their attacks against allied forces in Afghanistan, analysts have said.
The Central Intelligence Agency, hoping to avoid making matters worse with Pakistan, has not conducted a drone strike since mid-November.
Diplomats and intelligence analysts said the lull in CIA missile strikes, the longest in Pakistan in more than three years, is offering for now greater freedom of movement to an insurgency that had been splintered by in-fighting and battered by American drone attacks in recent months, The New York Times reports.
“It makes sense that a lull in US operations, coupled with ineffective Pakistani efforts, might lead the terrorists to become complacent and try to regroup,” the paper quoted an American official, as saying.
“We know that Al Qaeda’s leaders were constantly taking the U.S. counterterrorism operations into account, spending considerable time planning their movements and protecting their communications to try to stay alive,” the official added.
C Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University who just returned from a month in Pakistan, put it more bluntly, saying the insurgents are ‘taking advantage of the respite. It allows them to operate more freely’.
Meanwhile, several administration officials said that any lull in drone strikes did not signal a weakening of the country’s counterterrorism efforts, suggesting that strikes could resume soon.
“Without commenting on specific counterterrorism operations, Al Qaeda is severely weakened, having suffered major losses in recent years. But even a diminished group of terrorists can pose danger, and thus our resolve to defeat them is as strong as ever,” said George Little, a Defense Department spokesman.
Over all, drone strikes in Pakistan dropped to 64 last year, compared with 117 strikes in 2010, according to The Long War Journal.
According to the paper, analysts attribute the decrease to a dwindling number of senior Qaeda leaders and a pause in strikes last year after the arrest in January of Raymond Davis, a CIA security contractor who killed two Pakistanis, the Navy Seal raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden, and the American airstrike on November 26.