The US drone program in Pakistan may be coming to an end “very, very soon.” A promise to pull back the program was announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the end of his diplomatic visit to Pakistan on Thursday.
Speaking on Pakistani television, Kerry said that President Obama has a “very real timeline” on ending drone strikes in the country. CNN reports that Kerry believes a drone program in Pakistan might not even been needed any more. He says that the US has “eliminated most of the threat and [will] continue to eliminate it.”
Before this, President Obama had said in May that the drone strikes would decrease in the “Afghan war theater” as part of US withdrawal. Many believed Obama was referring to drone use in Pakistan as well.
According to BBC News, the drone program in Pakistan has claimed as many as 3,460 lives since 2004. After President Obama came into office in 2009, drone strikes in Pakistan increased sharply. In recent years, however, they have begun to decline rapidly with only 17 strikes in 2013 so far. In 2012 there were 48 strikes and 73 the year before that.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent promise was made in the likely hopes that it would cool tensions between Pakistan and US leadership. Since winning elections earlier in May, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for an end to all US drone strikes. Sharif says that the US drone program violates the sovereignty of Pakistan.
What separates the US drone program in Pakistan from drone programs elsewhere is that it is directed by the CIA. Whereas the other drone programs operate under military guidelines, drones in Pakistan fall under CIA control. The CIA follows different rules for drones than the military. This includes the permission to strike any and all suspected members of militant or terrorist groups. The military, instead, must only use drone strikes against specific terrorists and groups.
Some Pakistani officials hope that Kerry’s new promise will mean the US plans to completely end all drone strikes in Pakistan and “not just curtail them.”
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