The Pentagon official said Mullen overstated the connections and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan, where relations with the U.S. soured after the raid in May to kill Osama bin Laden, who had been hiding in a military town in Pakistan.
The softliners, mainly in the intelligence community, State Department and Pentagon intelligence unit, are calling for a major cutback in drone strikes. Their views were outlined in a recent Council on Foreign Relations report on Pakistan.
The report, "A Pakistan-Based Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Homeland" was produced by Stephen Tankel who recommended several policies to forestall a terror attack originating from Pakistan, including closer cooperation with Islamabad. On drone strikes, Tankel urged recalibrating direct action strikes.
"The United States should continue to use drone strikes to eliminate high-value targets and essential mid-level commanders, but it should consider significantly de-escalating their overall use," he said. "Doing so could help to reduce bilateral tensions, overall anti-American sentiment, and the risk of mobilizing recruits who join militant outfits out of anger or a thirst for revenge."
Defense officials said U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter in March opposed a U.S. drone strike against Pakistani militants over fears it would further damage ties with Islamabad. Munter is said to be part of the softline faction opposing aggressive action against militants.