With U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after this year still unclear, the administration is looking for other ways to launch drones into Pakistan, officials said.
Officials told the Los Angeles Times that the administration is looking at other bases in Central Asia, but noted that moving out of Afghanistan will hinder the CIA’s ability to launch timely strikes in Pakistan’s mountainous border region.
“There is an enormous amount of human intelligence collected that supports the strikes, and those bases are a key part of it,” one official said.
The United States has yet to get a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan, and without it all U.S. forces will pull out of the country by the end of the year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the pact could be signed after the country’s elections this spring.
Military planes currently accompany the CIA’s drones in Afghanistan, and officials said if the U.S. bases in Afghanistan close they could move the drones to northern countries, but didn’t specific which.
It’s not the first time officials have acknowledged contingency planning in its ability to launch drone strikes against terrorist organizations in Pakistan.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier this month that he didn’t want to “get into the specifics of what our plans are on intelligence and drone strikes,” noting that “you’re constantly updating and changing … where you posture those assets, where the threats are most significant, where do you have allies that are willing to work with you.”
But the administration has scaled back its use of drones in recent years. Pakistan was the target of 28 drones strikes in 2013, down from a high of 117 in 2010.