WASHINGTON Feb 4 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 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)