U.S. President Barack Obama has publicly acknowledged for the first time that the United States uses drone strikes against militants in Pakistan.
Mr. Obama confirmed during an online town hall discussion Monday that drone attacks have been used to target al-Qaida and its affiliates, adding that many of the strikes have been in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
The president defended the operations, which have greatly increased during his administration, saying they are used for "very precise, precision strikes" in the fight against al-Qaida.
"This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities and bases, and so on," he said. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash."
In a rare public discussion of the Central Intelligence Agency's usually covert operations, Mr. Obama stressed that the drone strikes have not killed a "huge number of civilians."
The Washington-based New America Foundation says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,700 and 2,700 people in the past eight years.
Following the president's remarks, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman told the French news agency, AFP, that the attacks are "unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable," despite what he called their "tactical advantages."
The Pakistani government has long condemned the drone strikes as a violation of its sovereignty, but the attacks are believed to be carried out with the help of Pakistani intelligence.
Until Monday, U.S. officials had never confirmed the missile strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, but they have anonymously confirmed such attacks to various news outlets.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.