WASHINGTON - The increased tempo in US drone strikes in Pakistan is resulting from a sense of urgency about expectations that President Barack Obama will soon order a drawdown that could leave Afghanistan with fewer than 6,000 US troops after 2014, according to a media report.“The strikes are seen as a way to weaken adversaries of the Afghan government before the withdrawal and serve notice that the US will still be able to launch attacks,” The Washington Post reported, citing current and former US intelligence officials.The rapid series of CIA strikes “may be a signal to groups that include not just al Qaeda that the US will still present a threat” after most American forces have gone, Seth Jones, a counterterrorism expert at the Rand Corporation, was quoted as saying. “With the drawdown in US forces, the drone may be, over time, the most important weapon against militant groups.”American officials also tied the increase to recent intelligence gains on groups blamed for lethal attacks on US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.Among those killed in the drone strikes, according to US officials, was Maulvi Nazir, a Taliban commander accused of planning cross-border raids and providing protection for al Qaeda fighters.The CIA may see a diminishing window for using drones with such devastating effectiveness as the military begins sharp reductions in the 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan, current and former officials said, according to the Post.“As the military pulls back, the agency has to pull back,” a former US intelligence official said on the condition of anonymity, particularly from high-risk outposts along the country’s eastern border that have served as bases for running informant networks and gathering intelligence on al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan.The report speculates that such a retrenchment could slow the process of identifying fresh targets for drone strikes, although the agency is expected to continue operating the remotely piloted planes from fortified bases, such as a landing strip in Jalalabad.“Essentially we will become Fort Apache in Kabul and the major cities,” the former US intelligence official said.Even if the drones continue to take off and land, the diminished presence in Khost and other locations could hamper “our ability to gather intelligence on where Zawahiri is and what al-Qaeda is doing in the North-West Frontier Province” of Pakistan, he said, referring to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the region now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.The CIA’s base plans are among a wide range of issues that the US government has been negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is visiting top officials in Washington this week. The report said the Pakistani government has not publicly protested the stepped-up drone strikes, but reports suggest that they have caused higher-than-usual civilian casualties. Bill Roggio, who tracks drone activity in Pakistan for the Long War Journal Web site, said preliminary information indicates that as many as 11 civilians, alongwith 30 militants, have been killed so far this year. If true, that civilian count would exceed the total for all of 2012, Roggio said.The Post said the US officials disputed that count but declined to provide an alternative figure. Assessing the civilian toll has been notoriously difficult, partly because the strikes take place in areas almost inaccessible to journalists and independent monitors, the Post said. The New America Foundation has estimated that the civilian casualty rate was 10 per cent in 2012, down from 60 per cent in 2006.Former CIA director David Petraeus, who had previously commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan, had sought to place tighter restrictions on the agency’s drone campaign in Pakistan, leading to clashes with the head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, former officials said.Obama has now nominated his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, as the next CIA Director. The direction the drone programme might take under Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, is unclear, the Post said. The strikes so far this year have been scattered across North and South Waziristan regions targeted in the vast majority of the more than 300 strikes carried out by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004.