The United States has cut back sharply on its drone strikes in Pakistan after the Islamabad government asked for restraint while it seeks peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper quoted a US official as saying, “That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no.” There had been a lull in such attacks since December, the longest break since 2011, it added.
The report said the Obama administration indicated it would continue carrying out strikes on senior al-Qaeda officials if they were to become available or to thwart any immediate threat to Americans.
It was not immediately possible to confirm the story.
The Washington Post quoted a senior Obama administration official as denying an informal agreement had been reached, saying, “The issue of whether to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban is entirely an internal matter for Pakistan.”
While some Pakistanis welcome the strikes, saying they kill fewer civilians and are more effective against Taliban militants than traditional military operations, others argue the strikes still cause civilian casualties, terrify residents and violate Pakistani sovereignty.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he wants the drone strikes to end.
The Washington Post said the current US pause came after a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
That attack took place a day after Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
An annual study by a British-based organisation found that CIA drone strikes against militants in Pakistan killed no more than four civilians last year, the lowest number of reported civilian deaths since the programme began in 2004.