President Barack Obama confirmed that the U.S. has been using drones to strike Taliban and al-Qaeda targets within Pakistan.
Speaking publicly via YouTube and Google+ on Monday night, Obama defended the covert program, saying that most of the strikes have been in Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, of the FATA.
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.
The president was responding to a user's question about a New York Times report on the use of drones for surveillance in Iraq.
The Obama administration's use of drones has become a topic of moral debate in the United States. The program has been criticized because it conjures an image of pilot -- or sometimes a civilian contractor -- sitting in a room and killing people up to 7,000 miles away.
It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash. It's not a bunch of folks in a room somewhere just making decisions. And it is also part and parcel of our overall authority when it comes to battling al Qaeda. It is not something that's being used beyond that, Obama noted.
But the main concern with drone warfare is the loss of civilian life. As early as 2009, Pakistani officials were charging the United States with killing as many as 1,000 civilians since the drone campaign began.
The political and defense analysts in Pakistan and around the world feel that drone attacks are counter-productive because they cause a huge number of civilian causalities. In the year 2009 alone, 708 people died because of drone attacks and according to the official figures of the Government of Pakistan, 700 were innocent women and children, News Pakistan reported.
Washington said the real number was around 30 as of the end of 2010.
I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties, Obama said.
For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it's been applied.
Pakistan feels differently. The county has long considered the drone strikes, as well as unauthorized U.S. action within its borders like the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, to be a breach of its sovereignty.
“Our views on drone strikes has been clear. These attacks are in violation of sovereignty. Notwithstanding tactical advantages of drone strikes, we are of the firm view that these are unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman told Agence France Presse after Obama's remarks on Monday.
Moreover, some believe that the drones are so caustic for U.S.-Pakistan relations that their use is increasing insurgent violence and breeding a new generation new militants.
The drones do have an overwhelming success rate when it comes to killing high-profile terrorists, such as the American-born al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. They also reduce the number of American soldiers deployed in the very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military actions than the one that we're already engaging in, Obama said.