US President Barack Obama has confirmed that unmanned American drones regularly target suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, in the first official acknowledgement of the CIA’s covert drone program which US officials have refused to discuss in public until now.
Obama acknowledged the drone strikes as a “targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists” during an hour-long online video “hangout” with users of Google’s Google+ social network, which was also streamed live on YouTube.
The president said the strikes had targeted “Al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and that a lot of the attacks had been carried out in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
“For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in,” President Obama said, according to Al-Jazeera.
The CIA’s drone program has escalated under the Obama administration, according to the New York Times. Many in Pakistan claim that the strikes often cause indiscriminate civilian deaths and injuries.
More than 130,000 questions were submitted by members of the public in advance of the hangout with Obama, with six people joining the president online during the event to ask questions and press for follow-up answers.
Obama answered questions on the anti-piracy bills currently on ice in Congress, visas for highly-skilled workers in the context of high US unemployment, and the consolidation of government agencies, according to the BBC.
The event closed the curtain on a week of social media engagement following Obama’s State of the Union address on January 24. Senior White House officials, including US Vice-President Joe Biden, held Twitter “office hours” last week.