Pakistani Airspace 'Likely Was Used' in US Drone Strike That Killed al-Qaeda Leader
09:57 GMT 02.08.2022 (Updated: 18:02 GMT 08.12.2022)
US counter-terrorism operations in the region remain a controversial subject in Pakistan, which has suffered massive collateral damage due to the Bush-era ‘War on Terror’. Former PM Imran Khan had vowed that Islamabad won’t host any American bases, nor would Pakistan allow the country’s airspace to be used for over-the-horizon operations.
The drone that delivered missiles to eliminate al-Qaeda* chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul on Saturday possibly used Pakistani airspace, several Western experts have suggested.
“One way or another, Pakistani airspace likely was used,” Laurel Miller, director of the Asia Programme at the Brussels-headquartered Crisis Group commented.
Rupert Stone, another security analyst, claimed that it is “hard to believe” that the strike was a result of US-Taliban** intelligence sharing.
“More likely is US-Pakistan cooperation (sic). The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) must have decent visibility into goings-on in Kabul. The drone probably came from the Gulf via Pakistani airspace or from a base inside Pakistan,” Stone said on Twitter.
The drone strike took place a day after Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, held a phone conversation with US CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, according to an official statement by the Pakistani military.
Media reports said that Bajwa has also spoken to US Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman after the strike was conducted, allegedly requesting Washington’s help in securing a $1.7 billion tranche of financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In an official statement announcing the strike, US President Joe Biden said that Zawahiri was tracked down in downtown Kabul by American intelligence agencies earlier this year. The “precision tailored airstrike” that targeted Zawahiri used two Hellfire missiles, a senior Biden administration official said, as per CNN.
First Over-the-Horizon Strike in Afghanistan Since US Troops Left Afghanistan
The US hasn’t revealed any other operational details of its over-the-horizon counter-terrorism operation, the first since last August, when American B-52 Bombers and Spectre gunships targeted Taliban positions in Kandahar, Herat and Helmand provinces.
On August 15 last year, days after the US operations, the Taliban stormed to power in Kabul. The US troops pulled out of Afghanistan on August 31 last year.
Media reports at the time suggested that the US aircraft involved in those operations had flown in from Qatar, with several analysts suggesting that Pakistani airspace had been used to carry out these missions.
The Pakistani government at the time was headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who in several TV interviews committed to not host any other American base in future.
The US and Pakistan had signed a Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCS) and Air lines of communications (ALoCS) agreement in 2001, under which NATO and American forces could use Pakistani territory and airspace for counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.
“When Pakistan, the Pakistani government, decided to join the US' war on terror, this country was devastated by that; 70,000 Pakistanis died in that war, which we had nothing to do with. We had over $150 billion loss to our economy,” then-prime minister Khan said in an interview with PBS NewsHour in July, 2021.
In another interview in June last year, Khan ruled out any possibility of hosting a US base after the American troops finally left Afghanistan.
Khan presently maintains that his ouster from power in a parliamentary vote in April this year was the result of a US-led "conspiracy" to replace his government with a more compliant one.
*al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization banned in Russia and many other states
**The Taliban are under UN sanctions over terrorist activities