When news of the two latest drone strikes emerged from Pakistan’s tribal belt in early February, it seemed to be business as usual by the CIA.
Media reports, citing unnamed Pakistani officials, carried familiar details – American drones had swooped into remote areas, killing up to nine people, including two senior commanders of al-Qaeda.
In Islamabad, Pakistan’s foreign ministry lodged an official protest with the American embassy.
Yet there was one problem, according to three American officials with knowledge of the drone programme: the United States did not carry out those attacks.
“They were not ours,” said one of the officials this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We haven’t had any kinetic activity since January.”
The Americans’ best guess is that one or possibly both of the strikes were carried out by the Pakistani military and falsely attributed to the CIA to avoid criticism from the public.
If the American version is true, it is a striking irony. In the early years of the drone campaign, the Pakistani army falsely claimed responsibility for American drone strikes in an attempt to mask CIA activities on its soil.
Now, the Americans suggest, the Pakistani military may be using the same programme to disguise its own operations.
The two strikes, which took place on 6 February in North Waziristan and 8 February in South Waziristan, appeared run of the mill.
“The compound was completely destroyed. The militants had surrounded the area after the attack,” one official told Agence France-Presse after the second explosion, in Babar Ghar, near Ladha.
Some reports, attributed to Pakistani officials, said the dead included two al-Qaeda commanders, identified as Abu Majid al-Iraqi and Sheikh Abu Waqas. Other reports said four Uzbek militants had died.