Military Should Run Drone Strikes Rather Than CIA, Powell Says

Friday, 24 May 2013 04:38 PM

May 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. drone strikes should be limited to targets that present a “real, immediate threat to us” and conducted by the military rather than the CIA, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

“Drones are a very, very effective weapon and we will continue to use them, but in a more circumscribed manner to make sure that we are going after the high-value targets that present a real, immediate threat to us,” Powell said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

The comments by Powell, also a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are the first time he has spoken publicly about unmanned aircraft known as drones.

Powell said the Pentagon should be responsible for conducting drone strikes after a period in which the Central Intelligence Agency directed many such attacks. The CIA has targeted alleged terrorists in places that aren’t overt war zones, such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

“The CIA didn’t do this kind of targeted assassination just a few years ago,” Powell said. “And then because of 9/11 and what we were going through for the last years, they took more and more responsibility.”

Along with giving the military full authority, President Barack Obama should work with Congress to establish revised rules, Powell said.

Tighter Rules

Obama in a speech yesterday outlined steps to tighten the rules governing how drone strikes will be conducted. In his remarks, the president didn’t go as far as Powell, who said that authority for the nation’s use of such military force should be shifted immediately and exclusively the Defense Department.

“This doesn’t mean the CIA has nothing to do with it,” Powell said. “The intelligence will come from the CIA and other sources and then be fed into the Department of Defense.”

Powell praised Obama’s speech as “balanced,” and credited him for seeking to be “more careful of the use of force, especially with respect to drones.”

While drone attacks have been effective against their targets, they have stoked a backlash against the U.S., particularly when they cause civilian deaths. Powell said he was recently reminded by a Pakistani “senior officer” about the unintended consequences of the CIA drone strikes.

“He said if you make a mistake and you end up killing 10 or 15 villagers or 20 villagers, in addition to the person you’re after, you have created 20 new enemies,” Powell said.

Syria Involvement

On other matters, Powell cautioned against military involvement in Syria and praised Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts “to create a diplomatic environment that will permit a political solution.”

Powell said he opposes steps such as creating a no-fly zone, which has been advocated by some U.S. lawmakers including Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.

“This is the time for caution,” Powell said.

Powell said he has negotiated in the past with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, calling him a “pathological liar.”

“So I’ve got no trust for him, but at the time I’m not sure what replaces him,” Powell said. “The conflict will not be over just because he suddenly walks away. I think a new conflict will emerge, and we’ll have to determine what role we will play in resolving that.”

Talking Points

Commenting on the furor among Republican lawmakers over the administration’s talking points following the attack last year in which four U.S. diplomats were killed in Benghazi, Libya, Powell said: “I don’t think it’s a full-fledged scandal.”

“All the chatter about the talking points, I don’t care about the talking points,” Powell said.

“I’m more interested in what was known before with respect to the risks they were about to accept and what was done on the ground to negate that risk,” he said. “That’s what we ought to be looking at.”

Powell said that during his time in government he was mindful of the need to seek the “right balance” between informing the public and keeping secrets, particularly when disclosure might put troops or others at risk. Still, he said that based on what he has read, the Obama administration went “perhaps over the line” in its efforts to track leaks to the Associated Press and Fox News.

With instances of alleged sexual assaults in the military drawing attention, Powell said military officials know they must get these kinds of problems under control.

Justice System

The military justice system does work for such cases, he said. “I can tell you in my experience as a commander we take it very, very seriously,” he said.

On the the large backlog of veterans’ claims, Powell said he has confidence that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is making headway dealing with that problem.

“General Shinseki has said he needs another couple of years to work on the backlog,” Powell said. “I have confidence that he will get it done.”

Powell was interviewed in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, where the names of 58,286 Americans died in that war are inscribed in black granite. Powell, who served in that conflict, said that one lesson of that war is the need to have a “a clear understanding” of political objectives and of enemy motivation before committing U.S. forces.

Powell, a Republican who endorsed Obama in 2008 and in 2012, said that the president “has done reasonably well” at start of second term. Powell said he hopes Obama succeeds in efforts with Congress to revise immigration laws.

The economy is improving, though steps to deal with the nation’s budget deficit require action, he said.

“We have got to fix our fiscal situation and our economy if we’re going to be able to do anything else in the world,” Powell said.

--Editors: Robin Meszoly, Don Frederick

To contact the reporter on this story: Terry Atlas in Washington at tatlas@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

© Copyright 2018 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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