U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday the United States had no plans to curtail drone attacks on Pakistani soil, adding to target terrorist leaders "is also about our sovereignty."
Panetta issued the defense of the strikes during a visit to New Delhi. He said Washington has always made it very clear that it will defend itself, and that the strikes also benefit the Pakistani people, since they were also targets of the insurgents.
His comments came one day after the White House confirmed the killing of al-Qaida's second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, apparently in a drone strike in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region. The White House characterized the strike as a major blow against al-Qaida.
Pakistan's foreign ministry has said "the strategic disadvantages of such attacks far outweigh their tactical advantages, and are therefore, totally counterproductive."
Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States. And until relations plummeted after Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan to protest a U.S. airstrike that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops last November, it also enjoyed military-to-military cooperation.
Panetta's visit to India is aimed at deepening defense cooperation with Pakistan's nuclear-armed rival. Moreover, NATO recently secured alternative routes into Afghanistan through Central Asia, and Washington, ignoring Islamabad's protests, has continued airstrikes targeting militants hiding out in Pakistan's tribal belt.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan played down the differences between Islamabad and Washington. He insisted that while there may be ups-and-downs in the relationship, both sides want to resolve their differences in ways that are mutually acceptable.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.