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Thursday, February 26, 2009

CIA to continue drone strikes in Pakistan

Thu, 26 Feb 2009 08:22:51 GMT

New CIA Director Leon Panetta spoke with journalists during his first news briefing since assuming office on Wednesday.
CIA director suggests that the US will continue cross-border aerial attacks on Pakistan, despite the large number civilian casualties.

Dodging a direct confirmation of the missile attacks by unmanned Predator aircrafts from bases in Afghanistan, newly appointed CIA Director Leon Panetta said the efforts to eradicate militancy in the region would continue.

"Nothing has changed our efforts to go after terrorists, and nothing will change those efforts," Panetta said Wednesday in response to questions about the CIA drone attacks.

"I don't think we can stop just at the effort to try to disrupt them. I think it has to be a continuing effort, because they aren't going to stop," Panetta said in his first news briefing since taking the job.

Leon Panetta assumed office as the 3rd Director of the CIA on January 13 after the cabinet approved his nomination by US President Barack Obama.

CIA drones have carried some three dozen strikes in Pakistan since mid-2008, with two during the Obama administration, but the US military has largely ignored public outrage over the civilian casualties

Islamabad's objections over the illegality of such actions on its soil have proven likewise fruitless. Recent reports, however, suggest a laxer stance concerning the strikes.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi praised the Obama administration's for its 'frankness' on Wednesday during meetings with Afghan and US officials in Washington.

"They are very frank. They're saying, 'We do not have a magic formula. . . . Let Pakistan, let the US, let Afghanistan -- let's all stick together and find a solution,'" Qureshi told the CNN.

Qureshi told reporters that while Pakistan objected to the cross-border strikes, it was prepared to carry out missile attacks against extremists against insurgents if the US was prepared to supply his country with drones.

According to Pakistani sources, at least 500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the aerial attacks, deemed widely as an imprecise way to target militants.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime, sending militants into hideouts along the tribal border with Pakistan.

The meetings come as the 70,000-strong international force in Afghanistan has failed to stabilize war-torn Afghanistan after seven years of war, as the year 2008 proved the deadliest since the invasion.

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