Pakistan drone mission in jeopardy if US troops exit Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: American intelligence agencies could lose their air bases used for drone strikes in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region if they withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, The New York Times (NYT) reported.

If President Barack Obama were to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, the CIA would have to close down its drone bases in the country because it could no longer be protected, the NYT report quoted US administration officials as saying.

Such a withdrawal would mean US forces would not be able to respond to a crisis in the region “such as missing nuclear material or weapons in Pakistan and India”.

“You hear about the president’s decision of the ‘zero option’ [no American troops would remain in Afghanistan] in the context of the future of Afghanistan, but this is really more about Pakistan,” one former senior intelligence official told NYT.

The intelligence agencies’ concern is that the nearest alternative bases are too far away for drones to reach Pakistan’s mountainous territory where remnants of al Qaeda’s central command are hiding, the report further stated.

The Obama administration has reportedly organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to address the issue.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz is to meet Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday (today) to discuss counter terrorism operations. Talks are likely to include the issue of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, drone strikes and the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, among other key issues.

According to the NYT report, in recent years, Pakistan has increased its drive to build small tactical nuclear weapons that could be used to repel an Indian invasion. The report states that American intelligence agencies have invested heavily in monitoring the Pakistani arsenal as those weapons are considered vulnerable to theft or use by a rogue commander.

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