When news of the two latest drone strikes emerged from Pakistans tribal belt in early February,it seemed to be business as usual by the CIA.
Local and international media reports,citing unnamed Pakistani officials,carried typical details: swarms of American drones had swooped into remote areas,killing up to nine people,including two senior commanders of al- Qaeda.
In Islamabad,Pakistans Foreign Ministry lodged an official protest with the American Embassy. Yet there was one problem,according to three American officials with knowledge of the programme: The United States did not carry out those attacks.
They were not ours, said one of the officials. We havent had any kinetic activity since January.
What exactly took place in those remote tribal villages,far from outside scrutiny,is unclear. But 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 Pakistani public.
E-mail and phone messages seeking comment from the Pakistani military were not returned.
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.
More broadly,the phantom attacks underscore the longstanding difficulty of gaining reliable information about Americas drone programme in the remote and largely inaccessible tribal belt particularly at a time when the programme is under sharp scrutiny in Washington.
For the past month,John Brennan,President Obamas counter-terrorism adviser and nominee to lead the CIA,has been dogged by Congressional questions about the drone programmes lack of transparency,particularly when it comes to killing American citizens abroad.
The Pakistani military,however,Tuesday rejected the report,the Press Trust of India reported.
A spokesman for the Inter-Services Public Relations reacted to the report in New York Times by saying that such an accusation is a distortion of the facts and seems to be aimed at diluting Pakistans stance on drone strikes.