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Report: U.S., Pakistan had secret agreement on dozens of drone strikes

By Steve Almasy, CNN
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 0443 GMT (1243 HKT)
A Pakistani protester holds a burning U.S. flag as they shout slogans during a protest in Multan in 2012 against the US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region.
A Pakistani protester holds a burning U.S. flag as they shout slogans during a protest in Multan in 2012 against the US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Washington Post: Pakistan approved drone program, helped pick at least one target
  • White House says two nations routinely have intelligence conversations
  • Pakistan reiterates position that drone strikes must stop

(CNN) -- Pakistani officials have for years secretly endorsed the U.S. drone program, even picking out at least one target for such an attack, according to a Washington Post report.

Neither the White House, the U.S. State Department nor the Pakistani Foreign Ministry would comment on the story, which said top secret CIA documents and Pakistani memos obtained by the Post described at least 65 such strikes between late 2007 and late 2011.

The story comes as Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif visited President Obama in Washington. Sharif told reporters he brought up the issue of drone strikes with Obama, "emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked Thursday about the report.

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"I can't speak to specific operational issues," he said. "What I can tell you is that on matters of bilateral cooperation and counterterrorism, we have regular conversations with Pakistan."

For years Pakistani officials have denounced any drone attacks, but the Post story says not only did they know about the strikes but they also actively participated in selecting some targets. One document from 2010 contains an entry about striking a site "at the request of your government," the Post said.

CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto said his sources have told him there has long been good cooperation between intelligence agencies in the two nations.

The Post report echoes what former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said in April. But he said Pakistan's government signed off on strikes "only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage." Still, it was the first time a top past or present Pakistani official had admitted publicly to such a deal.

Unmanned U.S. drones began launching attacks in Pakistan in 2004, by which time Musharraf had led the country for five years after taking power in a bloodless coup.

He said Pakistani leaders would OK U.S. drone strikes after discussions involving military and intelligence units and only if "there was no time for our own ... military to act."

Musharraf left office in 2008.

In a statement Thursday, Musharraf's office stressed that "during nine years of his rule, there were less than 10 drone strikes, all of which targeted militants, and a few of them were joint operations between [the] United States and Pakistan in locations that were not accessible to the ground forces of Pakistan."

The statement also noted that the former military ruler said in 2009 that "these drone strikes had become indiscriminate and were losing their impact due to claims of collateral damage to the civilian population."

It said that Musharraf "consistently demanded [that the] United States transfer drone technology to the Pakistan military, so Pakistan could take ownership in effectively targeting terrorists and also remedy the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by [the] United States."

The Post report said the Pakistan government routinely received classified briefings, including before and after photographs, on the strikes.

Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, a spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, said Thursday that Islamabad doesn't "comment on specific media reports citing unnamed sources."

Chaudhry reiterated Pakistan's public position on strikes in a written statement.

"Whatever understandings there may or may not have been in the past, the present government has been very clear regarding its policy on the issue. We regard such strikes as violations of our sovereignty as well as international law," it said.

The number of drone attacks has been decreasing sharply in the past three years because of tighter rules imposed by the Obama administration and the success of the program in killing its targets.

In August, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on a visit to Islamabad told a Pakistani television station that the United States hoped to end drone strikes there "very, very soon."

President Obama has a "very real timeline" for ending the strikes, he said.

This week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released highly critical reports on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The groups said some of the attacks may have violated international law, a charge the White House denied.

CNN's Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.

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