US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that civilians have been killed in drone attacks in Muslim nations.
“In the past, there was legitimate criticism that the legal architecture around the use of drone strikes wasn’t as precise as it should have been,” Obama said during a news conference Friday at the end of a nuclear security summit in Washington. “There’s no doubt that civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been.”
The US president made the comments when asked about an increase in drone operations in Libya, Syria, Somalia and elsewhere.
He said the United States should take responsibility for civilian deaths but has taken steps to avoid them over the past several years.
“In situations of war, you know, we have to take responsibility when we’re not acting appropriately,” Obama said.
The US has come under heavy criticism for fuzzy intelligence in carrying out drone strikes.
A drone attack in Yemen several years caused global uproar after it hit a wedding party and killed women and children. In October last year, an AC-130 gunship “mistakenly” opened fire on a charity hospital in Afghanistan, burning patients to death in their beds.
Obama said Friday that his administration uses “vigorous criteria” for getting intelligence on targeting, and that intelligence is “checked, double-checked, triple-checked before kinetic actions are taken.”
The CIA uses unarmed aircraft for airstrikes and spying missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.
Washington says the attacks target militant groups, but local officials and witnesses say civilians have been the main victims of the attacks in most cases.
Rights groups are especially concerned about “signature strikes,” one of the most controversial aspects of the CIA drone program, where people with unknown identities are targeted based on their looks, suspicious behavior, or other “signatures.”
The US has plans to expand drone flights by as much as 50 percent over the next few years to meet an increased demand for surveillance, reconnaissance and lethal airstrikes in more areas around the world.
The White House will for the first time release the death toll from drone strikes conducted since 2009, officials said last month.
The figures will be disclosed in a review of US airstrikes worldwide outside of active war zones. The review will include the number of both militants and civilians killed in the air raids.