US confesses drone usage

US confesses drone usage

US confesses drone usage

In this file photo, top US officials including President Obama (2nd L), Vice President Biden (L) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in which unmanned drones were used. AP photo

U.S. drones are regularly striking Taliban and al-Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil, U.S. President Barack Obama has admitted for the first time while also playing down the use of drones in Iraq.

“A lot of these strikes have been in the FATA,” Obama said Jan. 30 in a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube in reference to Pakistan’s semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border. “For the most part, they’ve been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we’re very careful in terms of how it’s been applied,” he said. “This is a targeted focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.”

He said many strikes were carried out “on al-Qaeda operatives in places where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them,” such as Pakistan’s lawless tribal zone. “For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the [action] we’re already engaging in.”

After Obama’s comments, Pakistan acknowledged yesterday “tactical advantages” to U.S. drone strikes but criticized the overall policy. “Notwithstanding tactical advantages of drone strikes, we are of the firm view that these are unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said.

According to an Agence France-Presse tally, 45 U.S. missile strikes were reported in Pakistan’s tribal belt in 2009, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011. The New America Foundation think tank in Washington said drone strikes in Pakistan had killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years.

At the same question-and-answer session, Obama played down the use of U.S. drones in Iraq, saying the program was very limited and focused mainly on protecting the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

The program has outraged senior Iraqi officials, The New York Times said Jan. 29. “The truth is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our embassy compound is protected,” Obama said. “I think that there’s this perception that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy nilly.”

Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, declined to address whether the U.S. government had obtained Iraqi permission to fly the drones. The acting minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, has said in interviews that they had not been consulted by the Americans. “Our sky is our sky, not the US’ sky,” al-Asadi is quoted by the daily as saying.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

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