I realized something as I was writing this post on Mark Mazzetti’s latest installment from his book. Signature strikes — those strikes targeted at patterns rather than identified terrorists — purportedly preceded our unilateral use of drone strikes in Pakistan.
At least that’s what appears to be the case, comparing this article, which dates General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s approval of signature strikes to a January 9, 2008 meeting with DNI Mike McConnell and Michael Hayden.
The change, described by senior American and Pakistani officials who would not speak for attribution because of the classified nature of the program, allows American military commanders greater leeway to choose from what one official who took part in the debate called “a Chinese menu” of strike options.
Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low.
The new agreements with Pakistan came after a trip to the country on Jan. 9 by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director. The American officials met with Mr. Musharraf as well as with the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and offered a range of increased covert operations aimed at thwarting intensifying efforts by Al Qaeda and the Taliban to destabilize the Pakistani government. [my emphasis]
With Mazzetti’s latest, which dates unilateral strikes to a July 2008 meeting with Kayani (note, Mazzetti doesn’t say whether Hayden and Stephen Kappes, or someone else, “informed” Kayani).
While the spy agencies had had a fraught relationship since the beginning of the Afghan war, the first major breach came in July 2008, when C.I.A. officers in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, to tell him that President Bush had signed off on a set of secret orders authorizing a new strategy in the drone wars. No longer would the C.I.A. give Pakistan advance warning before launching missiles from Predator or Reaper drones in the tribal areas. From that point on, the C.I.A. officers told Kayani, the C.I.A.’s killing campaign in Pakistan would be a unilateral war.
The decision had been made in Washington after months of wrenching debate about the growth of militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas; a highly classified C.I.A. internal memo, dated May 1, 2007, concluded that Al Qaeda was at its most dangerous since 2001 because of the base of operations that militants had established in the tribal areas. That assessment became the cornerstone of a yearlong discussion about the Pakistan problem. Some experts in the State Department warned that expanding the C.I.A. war in Pakistan would further stoke anti-American anger on the streets and could push the country into chaos. But officials inside the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center argued for escalating the drone campaign without the I.S.I.’s blessing. Since the first C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, only a small number of militants on the C.I.A.’s list of “high-value targets” had been killed by drone strikes, and other potential strikes were scuttled at the last minute because of delays in getting Pakistani approval, or because the targets seemed to have been tipped off and had fled.
So, in July 2008, when the C.I.A.’s director, Michael Hayden, and his deputy, Stephen Kappes, came to the White House to present the agency’s plan to wage a unilateral war in the mountains of Pakistan, it wasn’t a hard sell to a frustrated president. [my emphasis]
Now, Mazzetti dates the urgency to use unilateral strikes to a May 1, 2007 report that said al Qaeda was reconstituting in the tribal lands. The report was likely an early draft of or precursor to the July 17, 2007 NIE on “The Terrorist Threat to the Homeland.”
Let’s take a step back and contextualize that.