Zero-Option Limits CIA Drones Over Pakistan

RQ-170-2-magnify-560The so-called Zero Option in Afghanistan could put the intelligence collection programs of Al-Qaeda cells in Pakistan at risk, according to a report by the New York Times.

The growth of intelligence surveillance via drones has grown significantly, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, over the last decade. But it’s not just the military that depends on the drones stationed in Afghanistan. The CIA also flies drones out of U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

If a Bilateral Security Agreement is not signed and the U.S. military is forced to pull out all of its troops opposed to the proposed 10,000 that could be left behind to aid the Afghan National Security Forces, all of the U.S. airfields would also be shut down, according to the New York Times report.

The CIA bases the drones it often uses to fly over the Pakistan mountains to monitor Al Qaeda. The closure of these airfields means the drones will have to fly a longer distance to the target and thus have a shorter time on station.

The RQ-170 Sentinel played a key role in collecting data during the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Before the RQ-170 was publicly acknowledged by the military, photos of it kept popping up on blogs after people took pictures of it taking off from Kandahar. If all the bases get shut down, it’s unclear where the Sentinel would fly from to reach Pakistan.


About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • rtsy

    How about anyone of a few dozen other bases in the region or even the much hyped carrier launch and recovery?

    Does anyone really think this is an obstacle to the CIA doing whatever it wants?

  • paul

    I predict it will take the Taliban less than 2 years to regain control of the country if America totally pulls out. Serves karzai right that corrupt idiot!

    • Musson

      Just remember that in the last war in Afghanistan – the real fighting in Kabul took place after the Russians withdrew. Afghanistan is a tribal society and plenty of people hate the Taliban.

    • Afghanistan?
      We are setting up, in Afghanistan, exactly what we did
      to our Ally South Vietnam.
      Which is why Hamid Karzai is doing what he is doing.
      Seems the man knows history, unlike Americans.

  • The US Navy’s UCLASS program is separate from the Air Force/CIA. So are their missions – the answer does not lie with drone launches from carriers.

    • rtsy

      Can’t agree there. The CIA gets involved in every branch of the armed services, and is probably pushing for that carrier launch system harder than the AF itself.

    • Jeff M

      What you think long range carrier launched drones are for taking out pirate dinghys? LOL isn’t it obvious what the most sophisticated, longest range drones ever built will be used for? The lack of intelligence here amazes me, it truly does. Half of you must be drunk 24/7.

  • PolicyWonk

    We could always pull a Global Hawk out of mothballs – there were several the Chair Force didn’t want to use and squirreled away for a rainy day. And from the perspective of the clown Karzai, he rain may soon start a-falling.

  • hibeam

    I just hope Al-Qaeda does not take over the CIA before we can get Obama out of there.

    • Sam Shepard

      When Obama took over, Bush has all but ceded Afghanistan to the Taliban, and almost lost the whole G-D she-bang.

      Perhaps what you need to do is read General Stanley McCrystal’s Afghanistan Assessment (Spring 2009 – redacted version still available on-line). The usual conclusion from a reasonable individual is that you’ll realize how badly the previous incumbent and his clown posse screwed up.

  • Marc Winger

    We shouldn’t be giving Afghanistan (Karzai) options.

    • oblatt2

      Losers cant be choosers.

      We aren’t giving Karzai options hes giving us ultimatums. If we had performed better in Afghanistan maybe the story would be different but now its obvious that Karzai’s future lies with an alliance with the Taliban.

    • Ben

      If that’s the case, why don’t we occupy the whole damn country and turn it into a US territory? Obviously we know how to run their society better than they do. (sarcasm)

    • blight_


      Karzai should abdicate and go into exile. Possibly Italy, like Zahir Shah did…

    • Tiger

      “We?” It is their nation. The days of Empire building is over.

  • There has to be a means of continuing the operation of drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan. Perhaps, India can accommodate that but I doubt it somehow. Perhaps, there can be a central Asian republic.

    • blight_

      Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kazahks to operate drones?

    • I think it would have to be this way. Would the drones have enough range to reach the area of operations you think?