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US drones regularly target terrorists in Pakistan: Obama

Last updated on: January 31, 2012 15:40 IST
File image of an American Predator drone

American drones regularly target terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, President Barack Obama on Tuesday said in a first such acknowledgment by the top US leadership on its highly successful but secretive programme.

"A lot of these strikes have been in the FATA, and going after Al Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama said in response to a question during his first Google+ and You Tube live web chat from the White House.

"For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we're already engaging in," Obama said.

More than 130,000 questions were received, the White House said.

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'Drones have not caused huge number of civilian casualties'

Last updated on: January 31, 2012 15:40 IST
US drone in action over North Waziristan

Obama said these strikes by unmanned drones are regularly carried out and these are "targeted focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists".

"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, responding to the question.

This is for the first time that the US has publicly acknowledged the drone attacks inside Pakistan. The United States so far had refrained from publicly speaking on this issue.

According to the US media, 64 US missile strikes were reported in the area in 2011, down from 101 in 2010. The US drone attacks have been increased during Obama's presidency. Obama claimed that drones have not caused huge number of civilians casualties.

"I want to make sure that people understand, actually drones have not caused huge number of civilians casualties...This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists," he said.

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'Drone strikes unlawful, violation of Pak's sovereignty'

Last updated on: January 31, 2012 15:40 IST
A US drone strike in North Waziristan

On Pakistan's cooperation in war on terror, Obama said, "I do agree that a country like Pakistan is one where our relations have got more strained because there are a lot of extremists inside their country, and either for lack of capacity or political will they haven't taken them all on."

"In some cases, they have been very cooperative, in some cases not as much as we want," he added.

However, hours after President Barack Obama confirmed that US drones regularly target militants in its tribal belt, Pakistan said such attacks were "unlawful" and a violation of its sovereignty.

"Our position on drone strikes is clear and based on principles. Drone attacks are unlawful, counter-productive and hence unacceptable," Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said in a text message sent to PTI.

"We cannot condone the violation of our sovereignty," he said.

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Pak leaders privately supported US drone attacks: WikiLeaks

Last updated on: January 31, 2012 15:40 IST
Family members mourn during a mass funeral of civilians killed in US drone strikes in Miranshah, Pakistan

The drone campaign by the Central Intelligence Agency has become an irritant in Pakistan-US ties largely due to growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

Rights groups have alleged that scores of civilians have died in the missile attacks.

US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010 showed that Pakistan's civilian and military leaders privately supported the US drone attacks despite public condemnation.

The CIA has scaled down drone attacks following a cross-border NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

Pakistan reacted to the NATO attack by closing all routes used to transport supplies to foreign troops in Afghanistan and forcing the US to vacate Shamsi airbase, which was a hub for CIA-operated drones.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered a comprehensive review of relations with the US and directed a parliamentary panel to frame new "terms of engagement" that will be debated by Parliament.

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Last updated on: January 31, 2012 15:40 IST
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