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Official: US Will Target Terrorists in Countries Unable or Unwilling to Act

John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (file photo)

A top U.S. official says the U.S. will continue to target al-Qaida in countries unable or unwilling to do it themselves.

John Brennan, White House senior adviser for counterrorism and homeland security, made the remarks in a speech Friday at the Harvard Law School.

He said the U.S. does not view its authority to use military force against al-Qaida as being restricted solely to "hot" battlefields like Afghanistan.

However, Brennan added the U.S. cannot use its military force "whenever" or "wherever" it wants.

He said "international legal principles, including respect for a state's sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints" on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally, and use force in foreign territories.

Brennan also took issue with the administration critics in Congress who are seeking to mandate that all terror suspects be treated as enemy combatants and held in military custody rather than in the civilian court system.

He said he is "deeply concerned" this approach to counterterrorism would represent a "drastic departure" for U.S. values and legal principles.

Brennan said such a departure would not only risk rejection by the courts and the American public, but "would undermine the international cooperation that has been critical to [U.S.] national security gains."

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.