Obama’s Drone Strikes Remark Stirs Controversy

Posted January 31st, 2012 at 6:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama's public acknowledgement that the United States uses drone strikes against militants inside Pakistan has brought condemnation from Pakistan and calls from a human rights group to clarify legal justifications for such a use.

In an interview with VOA Tuesday, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman called the U.S. missile strikes illegal, counterproductive and unacceptable, and in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty — although they are believed to be carried out with the help of Pakistani intelligence.

During an online town hall discussion Monday, Mr. Obama confirmed for the first time that drones have been used to target al-Qaida and its affiliates mostly in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

He defended the operations, which have greatly increased during his administration, saying they are used for “very precise, precision strikes” in the fight against al-Qaida.

But it was the president's response to a follow-up question that has stirred controversy. When asked whether drone strikes “send a message” that the United States is interfering in other countries' affairs, Mr. Obama said “pinpoint” strikes enhance the U.S. ability to respect the sovereignty of countries and limit incursions into their territory.

He said the majority of the drone strikes took place in the tough, mountainous terrain between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaida suspects are based. President Obama added that “for the U.S. to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the one we are already engaging in.”

Until Monday, U.S. officials had never publicly confirmed the missile strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal region.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International urged the Obama administration to “disclose details of the legal and factual basis for the lethal use of drones in Pakistan and clarify the rules of engagement.”

Last December, another human rights group issued a similar call. In a letter to President Obama, Human Rights watch urged “greater public accountability” for CIA drone strikes. The group also urged Washington to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”

The Washington-based New America Foundation says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,700 and 2,700 people in the past eight years.