White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan on Sunday defended the administration's campaign of drone missile attacks against militants while acknowledging that the airstrikes have sometimes killed noncombatants.
"Unfortunately, in war, there are casualties, including among the civilian population," Brennan said on ABC's "This Week," answering a question about the covert drone program. U.S. missile attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are not officially acknowledged by the administration but are frequently discussed indirectly.
"We've done everything possible in Afghanistan and other areas to reduce any risk to that civilian population," he continued. "Unfortunately, al-Qaida burrows within these areas, you know, safe havens as well as areas where there are civilians, but we've been very, very judicious in working with our partners to try to be surgical in terms of addressing those terrorist threats.
"Sometimes you have to take life to save lives, and that's what we've been able to do to prevent these individual terrorists from carrying out their murderous attacks."
However, the CIA drone campaign has done more than target specific al-Qaida figures. In Pakistan and now in Yemen, the agency has authority to conduct so-called "signature strikes," with missiles fired at fighters who are believed to pose a threat to American interests but whose names are not known.
Sunday, missile strikes killed three suspected Islamist militants in North Waziristan. Pakistan's government condemned the attack, saying such attacks violate international law and Pakistan's "territorial integrity and sovereignty."
Brennan was asked about his claim last June that for almost a year "there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we've been able to develop."
Sunday, he appeared to qualify his statement. "Well, what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant, being killed," he said.
Al-Qaida has been severely degraded, Brennan said, but "there's a lot of work to be done yet in Yemen, as well as in areas of Africa."