Most Americans support drone strikes on terrorists

2015-05-01 16:14


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Washington - Nearly three-quarters of Americans say it's acceptable for the US to use an unmanned aerial drone to kill an American citizen abroad if that person has joined a terror organisation, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

A majority - 6 in 10 - supports the use of drones to target terrorists in general. Only 13% oppose the use of drones, the poll said, and another 24% don't feel strongly either way.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted between April 23-27, in the days after President Barack Obama publicly apologised for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that inadvertently killed American hostage Warren Weinstein and Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto. The strike also killed Ahmed Farouq, an American citizen who was an al-Qaeda planning leader. Another strike killed Adam Gadhani, an American citizen who joined al-Qaeda and became Osama Bin Laden's spokesperson.

The survey is the latest in several years of data showing broad support among the US public for a targeted killing programme begun under President George W Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama.

While the US once condemned Israel for targeted killing from the air, such operations are now the centerpiece of American counterterrorism policy, and they enjoy widespread public backing.

Support for targeted killing with drones crosses party lines, the new poll found. Nearly 6 in 10 Democrats favour using drones to bomb members of terrorist groups, while only 16% are opposed. Among Republicans, 72% are in favour and only 10% are opposed. Independents are more ambivalent, with 45% in favour and 12% opposed; 37% are neutral on the issue.

Just 47% of Americans think it's appropriate to use drones to target terrorists overseas if innocent Americans might be killed in the process.

Drones kill many noncombatants

More than 4 in 10 (43%) of those who initially said they favoured using drones - or that they didn't favour or oppose using them - said it was unacceptable to use drones if innocent Americans could be killed.

The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government's assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists. Independent groups have estimated that at least hundreds, and possibly thousands, of noncombatants have been killed in the operations, a count the US government disputes.

Drone skeptics say most polls on the subject frame the question with the assumption that those targeted are terrorists, when it's not clear that is always the case.

"Almost everyone, of course, is going to support killing people who are trying to kill us, but that's not who we are necessarily targeting in each case," said Sarah Kreps, an associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.

Kreps examined poll data and found that if respondents are confronted with evidence of errors and civilian casualties in some drone strikes, support for the strikes drops below a majority.

Since the first operation in 2002, there have been 396 drone strikes in Pakistan and 126 in Yemen, according to the New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes using media reports. The CIA has conducted all of the strikes in Pakistan and most of them in Yemen, though the military also conducts drone strikes in Yemen.

The pace of strikes in both countries has diminished in recent years. Obama imposed a standard in Yemen that no strike would occur unless there was a near certainty that no civilian would be harmed.

That standard - more restrictive than the rules governing traditional military action - was not in place in Pakistan, which is considered part of the Afghan war theatre. In Pakistan, the drop-off in strikes has been attributed to the success of the programme in destroying much of core al-Qaeda.

Read more on:    cia  |  barack obama  |  us  |  security

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