The United States government does not routinely talk openly about its use of unmanned drone aircraft to attack and kill militants in Pakistan's tribal areas. The U.S. drone program along the Afghan/Pakistan border is generally shrouded in secrecy because it is run by the C.I.A., and the agency maintains tight control over access to information. But during a Google Plus "hangout" event yesterday, which was broadcast live on YouTube, President Obama was unusually frank in his response to questions about drones. Check out the drone-focused section of the hangout below:
The initial question came from Evan in Brooklyn, in reference to a New York Times article about the use of U.S. drones for surveillance in Iraq: "Mr. President, since you took office you've ordered more drone attacks in your first year than your predecessor did in his entire term, and these drone attacks have caused a lot of civilian casualities. I'm curious to know how you feel they help the nation, and whether you think they're worth it".
In his response, President Obama called the New York Times piece "a little overwritten" and denied that civilian casualties from drone strikes are common. He claimed that the strikes are "a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans". He also suggested that the U.S.'s "ability to respect the sovereignty of other countries, and to limit our incursions into somebody else's territory is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint strike" suspected militants.
Many in Pakistan disagree with the President's assertion. In one incident last March at least 40 people were killed in North Waziristan, most of whom were civilians attending a tribal meeting, according to local officials there, and Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit responded to Mr. Obama's remarks by saying "drone attacks are unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable. We cannot condone violation of our sovereignty".
Despite the controversy and active opposition by some Pakistani citizens, however, U.S. diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 showed that Pakistan's civilian and military leaders privately support the use of drones.
Related stories on Strombo.com: