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!

  • 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.

      • oblatt2

        Bush had bigger fish to fry like turning Iraq into an Iranian ally.

      • Jeff M

        He started the war, hippy. McCrystal thought Obama was an idiot and resigned. Nice rose colored glasses you got there, you might want to clean them because apparently you can’t see the obvious, it’s staring you right in the face. Gates had a lot to say about Obama as well. Iraq was probably the only reason Afghanistan was even a remote chance of victory, we’d be fighting the entire middle east if Hussein was still banging around in his cage. Took balls to do that, he knew the pacifists in the senate would jump all over him, “this war is lost” as Harry Reid said.

        • blight_

          I’m sure more than one general in WW2 thought FDR was an idiot, but they kept their opinion to themself, or certainly did not give interviews and trumpet it. Macarthur opened his mouth in Korea (along with advocating protracted war,and nuclear war), and so he was sacked. Eliminating McCrystal is keeping with that precedent. I imagine McClellan’s criticism of Lincoln may have been behind his replacement, or did not do him any favors.

          What is with generals that are Mc or Mac and hating the C in C?

          Not sure what Saddam’s demise has to do with Afghanistan; though I wonder how the character of Arab Spring would’ve changed.

          • McCrystal never said anything disparaging about Obama (read what was actually said an who said it). McCrystal didn’t offer at the altar. Obama was upset that McCrystal actually told America what he thought he needed for Afghanistan (Obama never wanted the surge).

            It takes greater leadership and confidence to keep people around that don’t agree with you. Obama failed and has been failing since…

          • IronV

            While McCrystal didn’t actual disparage Obama, he screwed up BIG TIME. I like McCrystal. So did Obama. But he had to go for losing control of that mess…

            Failure is relative. And relative to Bush, Obama’s looking pretty sweet…

          • blight_

            I suspect the real reason he got canned had nothing to do with Obama, but this:

            “This is one of the central flaws with McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy: The need to build a credible government puts us at the mercy of whatever tin-pot leader we’ve backed – a danger that Eikenberry explicitly warned about in his cable. Even Team McChrystal privately acknowledges that Karzai is a less-than-ideal partner. “He’s been locked up in his palace the past year,” laments one of the general’s top advisers. At times, Karzai himself has actively undermined McChrystal’s desire to put him in charge. During a recent visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Karzai met three U.S. soldiers who had been wounded in Uruzgan province. “General,” he called out to McChrystal, “I didn’t even know we were fighting in Uruzgan!”

            That McChrystal called out Karzai in a time where they were (and we still are) trying to make him look like more than the Mayor of Kabul. Other than the fact that his staff think other civil servants are buffoons (and presumably, the others would say the same about McChrystal and his own entourage).

            Upon a deeper re-read, I’d forgotten that he was involved in Tillman, and somehow peripherally connected to Camp Nama.

            Government workers trash talking each other doesn’t normally warrant a firing. Indirect allusions to POTUS and McChrystal not being on the same wavelength isn’t a big deal either-though it just means POTUS waits for an acceptable excuse to get rid of you.

            There’s probably a back-end story about Obama not liking the guy, and finally getting his excuse to terminate him. It may help if McChrystal had power-play rivals in the Army that tipped his hand.

          • blight_

            I wonder if McChrystal might be offended to a comparison with Lawrence of Arabia. He understands COIN, but gets marginalized shortly after taking Damascus. Now what?

          • Guest

            Yes of course Major Rod, we all know that President Bush took “bad
            advice” from all the wrong people and took “good advice” from NO ONE, in the “Run Up” to the 2003 Iraq War.

            Confucius Say, “When Anger rises, think of the Consequences”. (470BC)

            Brent Scowcroft (Aug 2002) – “Don’t attack Saddam (Iraq), the results could well destabilize Arab Regimes and even swell the Ranks of Terrorists”.

          • Praetorian

            Ah ha, fifty cent brigade, you should not be paid for that post. Nothing was said about your party.

        • IronV

          Wow. Hard to get more crazy and 180 degrees away from reality than that!

          “McCrystal RESIGNED because he thought Obama was an idiot?”
          “Iraq was the only reason Afghanistan had a remote chance of victory?” “Fighting the whole middle east if Hussein was still around?”

          SAY WHAT!!!??? Dude you are on some serious recreational substance…

  • Marc Winger

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

  • 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.