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Article: Drone Plan Opens New War Front

From the LA times:

WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan's tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in Quetta.
 
The proposal has opened a contentious new front in the clandestine war. The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington's relationship with Islamabad.
 
The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta -- or at least threatening to do so -- is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.
 

"If we don't do this -- at least have a real discussion of it -- Pakistan might not think we are serious," said a senior U.S. official involved in war planning. "What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the U.S.; we can't allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore."
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Pakistan has launched a series of military operations against Islamic militants over the last year. But those operations have been aimed primarily at Taliban factions accused of carrying out attacks in Pakistan, not the groups directing strikes on U.S. forces across the border.

The CIA has carried out dozens of Predator strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt over the last two years, relying extensively on information provided by informant networks run by Pakistan's spy service, Inter-Services Intelligence.

The campaign is credited with killing at least 10 senior Al Qaeda operatives since the pace of the strikes was accelerated in August 2008, but has enraged many Pakistanis because of civilian casualties.

The number of attacks has slowed in recent months. Possible causes include weather disruptions and difficulty finding targets as insurgents get better at eluding the Predator, and larger Reaper, drone patrols.

Of 48 attacks carried out this year, only six have taken place since the end of September, according to data compiled by the website The Long War Journal. The latest attack occurred Friday, in which a senior Al Qaeda operations planner named Saleh Somali is believed to have been killed.

The drone attacks have been confined to territories along Pakistan's northwestern border, regions essentially self-governed by Pashtun tribes. The province of Baluchistan, however, has a distinct ethnic identity and its own separatist movement. It is one of Pakistan's main provinces, and strikes against its main city, Quetta, would probably be seen as a violation of the nation's sovereignty.

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