U.S. sharply curtails drone strikes in Pakistan: report

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 4, 2014 10:08pm EST

Undated file photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy shows a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle conducting tests over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Erik Hildebrandt/Northrop Grumman/Handout

Undated file photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy shows a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle conducting tests over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Navy/Erik Hildebrandt/Northrop Grumman/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has cut back sharply on drone strikes in Pakistan after the Islamabad government asked for restraint while it seeks peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

The Post quoted a U.S. official as saying, "That's what they asked for, and we didn't tell them no." The newspaper said there had been a lull in such attacks since December, the longest break since 2011.

The newspaper said the Obama administration indicated it would continue carrying out strikes on senior al Qaeda officials if they were to become available or to thwart any immediate threat to Americans.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.

The Post quoted a senior Obama administration official as denying an informal agreement had been reached, saying, "The issue of whether to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban is entirely an internal matter for Pakistan."

While some Pakistanis welcome the strikes, saying they kill fewer civilians and are more effective against Taliban militants than traditional military operations, others argue the strikes still cause civilian casualties, terrify residents and violate Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he wants the drone strikes to end.

The Post said the current U.S. pause came after a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

That attack took place a day after Pakistan's foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.

An annual study by a British-based organization found that CIA drone strikes against militants in Pakistan killed no more than four civilians last year, the lowest number of reported civilian deaths since the drone program began in 2004.

(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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