Millennium Post

Obama defends US drone strikes as ‘legal and effective’

US President Barack Obama on Friday strongly defended the controversial drone strikes as ‘legal, effective’ and necessary in a ‘just war’ of self-defence as he announced a new counter-terrorism doctrine that include setting new limits on their use in countries like Pakistan.

In a major speech on his counter-terrorism policy at the National Defence University here, Obama said he would curtail the use of drones, shut the prison at Guantanamo Bay and seek new limits on his own war power. Obama, who for the first time personally acknowledged that drones have killed several Americans overseas, justified the use of unmanned armed aircraft as ‘legal’ and a highly ‘effective’ tool in self-defence, indicating that he would continue to use it as a key asset in war against terrorism.

‘We are at war with an organisation that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first... So this is a just war - a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defence,’ Obama said.

Obama confirmed that, a day earlier, he signed a directive setting guidelines to the strikes - the attack will only be authorised against terrorists who pose a ‘continuing and imminent threat’ to Americans, and when there is a ‘near-certainty’ that civilians will not be killed or hurt.

The President said that civilian casualties from drone strikes ‘haunt’ him, but added that risk must be balanced against the threat from terrorist groups that are specifically targeting civilians. ‘Doing nothing is not an option.’

American officials maintain that the drones only target al-Qaeda and Taliban elements. However, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan claim hundreds of civilians, including women and children, have been killed by CIA operated drones. In Pakistan alone, up to 3,336 people have been killed by drones since 2003, according to the New America Foundation.

Obama asserted that the US respects the sovereignty of other countries, noting that a commando operation like the one that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden cannot be a norm.

‘Our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. The risks in that case were immense. The likelihood of capture, although that was our preference, was remote, given the certainty that our folks would confront resistance,’ Obama said.

‘The fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties or embroiled in a extended firefight was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our special forces, but it also depended on some luck. And it was supported by massive infrastructure in Afghanistan.’

Pakistan’s Prime Minister-designate Nawaz Sharif has said that the CIA’s controversial drone attacks must end as it pose a ‘challenge’ to national sovereignty. Declaring that ‘America is at a crossroads’, Obama sought to reframe his counter-terrorism strategy in war on terror.

‘...As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance, for the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power, or risk abusing it,’ he said.
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