What is America's controversial drone attack policy? All you need to know
US President Barack Obama defended US drone attacks as legal, effective and necessary in the country's campaign to counter terrorism. But he acknowledged on Thursday the targeted strikes are no 'cure-all' and said he was haunted by the civilians unintentionally killed.
Washington: US President Barack Obama defended US drone attacks as legal, effective and necessary in the country's campaign to counter terrorism. But he acknowledged on Thursday the targeted strikes are no "cure-all" and said he was haunted by the civilians unintentionally killed. He said he had signed new policy guidelines for the use of the unmanned drones and said he wanted to find ways to allow additional oversight of the program.
Some questions and answers about the program:
What are they?
The US has an extensive fleet of remotely piloted vehicles, known as drones, but it relies most heavily for targeted strikes on the Predators and Reapers, which are armed with Hellfire missiles. They are controlled from as far away as the US but also from bases closer to the war zones, including Djibouti and Sicily.
Who conducts drone strikes?
The US military has routinely conducted drone strikes in war zones, including a little more than 500 in Afghanistan last year, an increase over the 2011 number of nearly 300. Those drone strikes are largely known and are part of the military's war effort. The CIA conducts its own, more secret drone war, mainly concentrating on strikes in Pakistan's border region as well as in Yemen and Somalia.
How big is the CIA program?
While the government does not disclose details about the classified program, independent groups have collected data on the CIA drone strikes. The best estimates are that the CIA has conducted more than 350 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 and under 100 total in Yemen and Somalia. US officials have rarely referred to the agency's secret drone program publicly, but there is now a shift to transfer authority for drone strikes to the military for all but those conducted in Pakistan and Yemen. Estimates suggest that as many as 3,000 people have been killed by US drones since 2004, the majority in Pakistan. The group New America Foundation estimates that roughly 21 percent of those killed are believed to be nonmilitants.
How will US drone policy change?
Obama said the administration has routinely briefed Congress on drone strikes, but that information is often classified and not available to the public. Obama pledged to consider ways to try to increase the oversight of drone strikes outside war zones. He said he has signed new policy guidance that spells out the guidelines for the use of drones. The policy calls for drone strikes only when the target poses a "continuing and imminent" threat to the US people and when there is no other way to effectively address the threat. The president also said that before any strike is carried out, there must be "near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."
What is the administration's legal rationale for using drones to kill terror suspects, including US citizens, overseas?
Administration officials say the basis for the armed drone program derives from the president's constitutional power to protect the US from imminent attack. The administration has also cited the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress approved shortly after the 11 September, 2001, attacks, as legal backing for strikes against al-Qaida and its affiliates.
Does Obama have the authority to kill an American citizen on US soil?
Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying on Capitol Hill, did not rule out such a possibility but said he could only foresee that happening in an extraordinary circumstance, such as the 9/11 attack or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Obama said he does not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen — with a drone or a shotgun — without due judicial process. He added, "Nor should any president deploy armed drones over US soil."
What does the US public think of the drone program?
Most polls show Americans broadly support the use of drones to target suspected terrorists in foreign countries, though support drops somewhat if the target is a US citizen and drops dramatically if they were to be used in the United States. A CBS News/New York Times poll in April found that 70 percent of Americans favor using drones to attack suspected terrorists in foreign countries, while 20 percent opposed it. Republicans were most supportive of drones — 79 percent favor, compared with 70 percent of independents and 64 percent of Democrats.
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