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Obama's drone comment was no slip-up, official says

From Dan Lothian and Reza Sayah, CNN
January 31, 2012 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The comment was not a mistake or a message to Pakistan, an official says
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has openly acknowledged the drone program before
  • Obama said a pinpoint strike is less intrusive than other military means

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama's public acknowledgment of drone attacks in Pakistan was no accident, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

The comment the president made Monday was "neither a slip-up" nor a "secret message to the Pakistanis," said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

In a forum on YouTube and Google+, the president said a "pinpoint strike" is "less intrusive" of other countries' sovereignty than other military ways to target al Qaeda.

While it marked the first time the president publicly acknowledged drone strikes on Pakistan, it was not the first time his administration did. Last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged the use of CIA Predator drones.

White House comments on drone program

With hundreds of strikes over the past few years, the program has been one of the biggest open secrets in Pakistan. For years, the Pakistani government has given tacit approval of the strikes while publicly condemning them.

The president's remarks came in response to a question about drone strikes.

"I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones," Obama said. "But understand that probably our 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 [execute a] pinpoint strike on al Qaeda operatives in a place where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them."

The president noted that "a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA" -- the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where members of al Qaeda and Taliban are known to be.

"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," the president said.

The senior administration official said the president was discussing something widely known and emphasizing that the drone missions are "precise" and "targeted to avoid casualties."

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