But U.S. and Pakistani officials said the aircraft launches were halted in April, weeks before the bin Laden raid, after a dispute over a CIA contractor who fatally shot two Pakistani citizens in Lahore in January. An American official said the CIA’s decision to suspend the launches was part of a U.S. effort to “pay attention to the sensitivities” of the Pakistanis, who had objected to a claim of diplomatic immunity for the contractor.
Although Pakistan has continued to voice sharp public criticism over the shootings and the bin Laden raid, officials from both countries said the rupture in their intelligence cooperation has slowly begun to heal. Pakistan has reversed its freeze on visas for U.S. intelligence officials, they said, and allowed dozens of CIA personnel to reenter the country.
All U.S. drone strikes in the past three months have been launched from Afghanistan, in the vicinity of Jalalabad, according to the officials, who spoke about intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity. The New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes, has listed 23 such raids since the beginning of April, all but one in Pakistan’s tribal regions of North and South Waziristan. A June 20 attack was reported in Kurram, an area above North Waziristan along the Afghanistan border.
The drone program has become increasingly controversial as the Obama administration has expanded its use beyond the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Lethal missiles have been launched from unmanned aircraft in at least five countries in addition to Pakistan — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and, most recently, Somalia. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command last week used a drone to attack what officials said were two senior members of the al-Shabab militant group near Kismaayo, on the southern Somali coast.
A U.S. official said Friday that the two “killed last week in Somalia were looking to conduct attacks in Europe” and that the specific target was Britain, but declined to provide details indicating the imminence or specifics of any plans. Some initial reports indicated that the two militants had been wounded but not killed.
Some international law experts and human rights groups have questioned the expanded use of drones and the legality of such strikes in countries with which the United States is not at war. In Libya, where the Defense Department said 42 drone strikes have been launched by U.S. Predator aircraft as of Tuesday, the United States is operating under NATO command in a U.N.-authorized mission.