Until now, most people assumed that the US conducted its Predator strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets from bases in Afghanistan. Now, however, Senator Dianne Feinstein has exposed a Pakistani partnership on Predator launches that the previous administration tried to keep quiet. Her offhand remark may put the entire program in jeopardy:
A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an airbase inside that country, a revelation likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counterterrorism collaboration with the United States.
The disclosure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, marked the first time a U.S. official had publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land.
At a hearing, Feinstein expressed surprise at Pakistani opposition to the ongoing campaign of Predator-launched CIA missile strikes against Al Qaeda targets along Pakistan’s northwest border.
“As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,” she said of the planes.
Until now, that was a closely guarded secret. The drone attacks are incredibly unpopular among the Pakistani public, and the US didn’t want to undermine the current, democratically-elected government in Islamabad. They wanted to give the Yousef Gilani government deniability on their cooperation with the American military in order to keep our options for attack open.
This isn’t the first time Feinstein has blown a sensitive operation by opening her mouth, either. Californians will recall that Mayor Feinstein called a press conference to discuss the Night Stalker case, a string of violent rapes and murders that terrified the entire state. She divulged previously-confidential information about Richard Ramirez’ shoes and gun — and on hearing it, Ramirez promptly dumped them into the bay on his way out of town, eliminating key evidence in the case.
This exposure will cause much greater damage. The Pakistani public will almost certainly demand an end to these Predator flights, which have been highly successful at decimating terrorist leadership in inaccessible areas of the Pakistani frontier. Without that kind of tactic available, we will have to fall back to more intrusive and potentially less effective overflights from Afghanistan. This could allow our enemies breathing room to rebuild their networks in the region, and put us on a collision course with Islamabad on our efforts to fight them. At the very least, Feinstein has just complicated the diplomatic situation for Barack Obama by an order of magnitude.