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Panetta defends Pakistan drone attacks

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has defended the military’s use of drones to target insurgents in Pakistan, while addressing a conference in neighboring India.

According to the BBC, Panetta said Wednesday that the United States had made it “very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves.”

His comments come two days after an al-Qaeda leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was reported to have been killed in a drone strike on a suspected military compound in North Waziristan, and a day after Pakistan reprimanded the United States chargé d’affaires in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, over such attacks, The Guardian reports.

Hoagland was told by Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Tuesday that the strikes breached international law and undermined Pakistan’s sovereignty, but when questioned on Wednesday about the matter Panetta said “this is about our sovereignty as well,” adding that drone attacks protected Pakistan as well as the United States, the Associated Press reports.

The United States has defied Pakistani demands that drone attacks be halted and carried out more than half a dozen such attacks in the past two weeks. Pakistan says the strikes are illegal and “totally counterproductive,” according to GlobalPost.

U.S. officials say Libyan-born al-Libi, who is believed to have been promoted to the number-two position in al-Qaeda following the killing by U.S. Special Forces of Osama bin Laden last year, died along with 17 others in Monday’s drone attack, and argue that his death represents a “major blow” to the terror network.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Specialist Third Class Scott Pittman/U.S. Navy

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to pilots during flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in January.