US to continue with its drone strikes Panetta

Washington: Brushing aside Pakistan`s objections, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta today said US will continue with its drone strikes. "The United States is going to defend itself under any circumstances," Panetta told PBS news in an interview, while responding to a question on drone strikes inside Pakistan.

Though he did not specifically mention drones, his answers indicated that he was referring to the drone strikes. Asked if drone strikes will continue no matter what the Pakistani government desires and wants, Panetta said, "Well, you know, without referring to those specific operations because they still remain covert operations…"

He was cut short by the anchor who said drone strikes were acknowledged recently by John Brennan, the top counter-terrorism advisor to the US President. "There was some acknowledgement of the fact that, you know, that they`re used but the basic operations remain sensitive and they remain classified.

"But let me just say this. We were attacked. The United States was attacked on 9/11. And we know who attacked us, we know that al-Qaeda was behind it, and we are going to do everything we can, use whatever operations we have to, in order to make sure that we protect this country and make sure that that kind of attack never happens again," Panetta said.

The Defence Secretary said the US is on right path on Afghanistan. "I think we`re on the right path towards that goal. 2011 was really a turning point. In 2011 the Taliban was weakened significantly. They couldn`t organise the kind of attacks to regain territory that they had lost, which is something they have done in the past. So they`ve been weakened," Panetta said.

"Secondly, the Afghan army and police really developed a great capability. They were operational. They were involved in the battle and they were doing a great job and they continue to do a great job and provide security. And thirdly, we`re transitioning areas to Afghan security and control. Right now as we speak, 50 per cent of the Afghan population is under their security and under their control, and I`d say by late summer 75 per cent of their population will be under their security and control. So General Allen has done a great job. We`re on the right course".

But at the same time, Panetta said there are challenges in Afghanistan. "But let`s not kid ourselves. There are going to be challenges. Taliban is resilient. They`re going to be there, they`re going to continue to attack. We do have problems obviously with Afghan corruption. "We`ve got to make sure that this continues on the right path, so I don`t think we ought to take anything for granted. We`re going to have to keep pushing to make this work," he said.