White House officials are pushing back on a new report that asserts the U.S. has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan at the request of the government there as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
The senior administration official denied that any informal agreement has been reached, telling NBC News, "The issue of whether to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban is entirely an internal matter for Pakistan.”
The official noted that the U.S. has not halted attempts to identify possible strike against senior al-Qaeda targets.
“For our part, we are continuing to aggressively identify and disrupt terrorist threats in the Afghan war theater and outside of areas of active hostilities in line with our established [counter-terrorism] objectives and legal and policy standards,” one official said. “This remains our policy -- reports that we have agreed to a different approach in support of Pakistani peace talks are wrong."
Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA's drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
The current pause follows a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud just days before an initial attempt at peace talks was scheduled to begin. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government accused the United States of trying to sabotage the talks, and the Taliban canceled the meeting.