US needs to keep up drone war against al Qaeda in Pakistan: Panetta

By AFP
Published: February 2, 2013

A file photo of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta during a press conference at the Pentagon September 27, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States will have to keep up an open-ended drone war against al Qaeda militants in Pakistan and elsewhere to prevent another terror attack on America, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

The assassination of al Qaeda figures in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with unmanned, robotic aircraft has provoked widespread criticism from human rights groups and some US allies, but Panetta said the US campaign has been effective.

Asked if the CIA “targeted killings” should be curtailed in coming years, Panetta told AFP in an interview Friday that there was still a need to continue the drone strikes more than a decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“I think it depends on the nature of the threat that we’re confronting. We are in a war. We’re in a war on terrorism and we’ve been in that war since 9/11.

“The whole purpose of our operations were aimed at those who attacked this country and killed 3,000 innocent people in New York as well as 200 people here at the Pentagon,” said Panetta, who is days away from retiring as Pentagon chief.

Before taking over as defense secretary, Panetta oversaw a dramatic increase in drone raids in Pakistan as head of the CIA from 2009-2011.

“I think we had a responsibility to use whatever technology we could to be able to go after those who not only conducted that attack but were planning to continue to attack this country,” he said.

“It’s been an important part of our operations against al Qaeda, not just in Pakistan, but also in Yemen, in Somalia and I think it ought to continue to be a tool we ought to use where necessary,” he said.

“And also where we can use it in conjunction with other countries that are pursuing the same goal,” said Panetta, citing Yemen’s strong support for drone strikes.

The CIA drone bombing raids, by Predator and Reaper aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles, have caused an unknown number of civilian casualties and prompted accusations that Washington is carrying out extrajudicial killings in the shadows with no genuine oversight by courts or lawmakers.

Panetta, who as CIA director presided over the successful raid that killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, said the campaign still needed to be regularly reviewed but did not say he favoured turning over the spy agency’s drone war to the military.

Some critics have called for giving the US military authority over the drone air strikes, which would require openly reporting every operation.

“Having said that, we always need to continue to look at it, to make sure we develop the right standards, that we’re abiding by the laws of this country, that we’re doing it in a way that hopefully can be a little more transparent with the American people.”

But he said “to protect this country” it was not enough to have operations carried out openly by the military.

Secret action led by the CIA was also needed “when you got those kind of operations where, because of the nature of the country you’re in or the nature of the situation you’re dealing with, it’s got to be covert.”

According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,627 and 3,457 people have been reportedly killed by US drones in Pakistan since 2004, including between 475 and nearly 900 civilians.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • super star
    Feb 2, 2013 - 3:13PM

    Well done Panetta your success with drones in Afghanistan has done a great favor to India in its struggle in Kashmir. It has eliminated many strategic assets of Pakistan who would otherwise surely have been sent across the border to create trouble

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  • Munna
    Feb 2, 2013 - 5:33PM

    Nice. US doing Pakistans work for free:) God bless US taxpayers :)

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  • ballu
    Feb 2, 2013 - 6:29PM

    Keep it coming… We love it.. no manpower needed just mouse clicking and just shear killing of these terrorist who only know language of gun…

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  • Saleem
    Feb 2, 2013 - 10:32PM

    Mr Panetta you should threaten to extend the scope of the drone attacks to cover the whole of land of pure. Then we will see how quickly the terrorist rats run to hide deep in their holes.

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  • Sexton Blake
    Feb 3, 2013 - 3:37AM

    Dear Mr. Panetta,
    The US has not produced any evidence over the last 12 years, or so, as to who perpetrated 9/11. Thus, a huge number of Americans and overseas people do not believe the official version of 9/11, because they would have to believe in fairy tales if they did..
    In regard to Al Qaeda, the US invented, and has continually trained and equipped this dreadful organization since the days of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. As a result of continuing US dreadful brutality, and the use of Al Qaeda in the Middle-East and North Africa, it has becomes quite obvious that you would know what mischief Al Qaeda will get up to at any given time, because they are bought and paid for by America. .

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