Obama defends 'legal' drone killings
President Barack Obama has defended America's controversial drone attacks as legal, effective and a necessary linchpin in an evolving US counter terrorism policy
However, President Obama acknowledged the targeted strikes are no "cure-all" and said he is haunted by the civilians unintentionally killed.
The president also announced a renewed push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, including lifting a moratorium on prisoner transfers to Yemen. However, shutting the prison will still require help from Republicans reluctant to back Obama's call to move some detainees to US prisons and try them in civilian courts.
Mr Obama framed his address as an attempt to re-define the nature and scope of terror threats facing the US, noting the weakening of al-Qa'ida and the impending end of the US war in Afghanistan.
"Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror," Obama said in remarks at the National Defense University. "What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend."
Since taking office, Obama's counter terrorism strategy has increasingly relied on the use of strikes by unmanned spy drones, particularly in Pakistan and Yemen. The highly secretive programme has faced criticism from congressional lawmakers who have questioned its scope and legality.
The president, in his most expansive public discussion on drones, defended their targeted killings as both effective and legal. He acknowledged the civilian deaths that sometimes result – a consequence that has angered many of the countries where the US seeks to combat extremism – and said he grapples with that trade-off.
"For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live," he said. Before any strike, he said, "there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set."
Mr Obama also signed new "presidential policy guidelines" aimed at illustrating more clearly to Congress and the public the standards the US applies before carrying out drone attacks. In Pakistan , up to 3,336 people have been killed by drones since 2003, according to the New America Foundation.