Reports indicate that President Barack Obama intends to block the growth of the CIA’s largely successful clandestine program of using missiles fired by drones to kill key al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan.
A debate over expanding the program has reportedly been ongoing among Obama and his advisers for the past year.
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The president and his advisers worry the spy agency’s desire to expand the strikes into populated areas such as Quetta ─ reported home to key Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar ─ would increase the risk of unwanted civilian casualties and increase diplomatic problems with the Pakistani government.
The administration reportedly has been encouraged by Pakistani army attacks against al-Qaida and Taliban positions inside Pakistan, and is wary of straining relations.
The attacks have killed over a dozen al-Qaida leaders in the past two years. The body count includes Abu Khabab al-Masri ─ al-Qaida’s alleged top specialist in the area of weapons of mass destruction ─ and Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban mastermind of Benazir Bhutto’s murder.
In spite of the publicity the strikes have garnered, the U.S. government still refuses to acknowledge its existence. However, an unnamed national security official tells Newsweek the attacks have not only been successful in killing key terrorists, but it has kept them on the run and disrupted their ability to plan new attacks.
Another official said expanding the drone missile strikes could be kept on the table as a way to gain diplomatic leverage with the Pakistani government to keep up its present offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
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