Pakistan reacted with anger yesterday to an American proposal to expand its drone missile strikes inside the country against Taliban and al-Qaida targets.
Pakistani politicians and officials described the idea of extending military operations into the vast, south-west province of Baluchistan as provocative and counterproductive, and warned of a severe backlash if the US went ahead.
Sources in the US administration confirmed that the White House has received recommendations from the military about an escalation in the use of the CIA’s unmanned drones to launch missile attacks. At present, attacks are confined to the tribal areas in the north-west of the country.
The recommendation calls for a renewed focus on targets in the economically backward province which has provided a stronghold for the Afghan Taliban and a sanctuary for al-Qaida elements. A source cautioned that Obama has not made a decision and could decide any military gains from expansion into Baluchistan may be outweighed by the public backlash, putting at risk the Pakistan government.
There is a reluctance to go into Baluchistan and the US hopes Pakistan’s forces will fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. The US is to provide Pakistan’s forces with increased military and civilian aid. The White House refused to comment on the possibility of using drones in Baluchistan.
The recommendation is part of a review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy ordered by Barack Obama when he took over the White House in January.