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US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta addresses a news conference after a trilateral meeting in Ottawa March 27, 2012. - File Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON: Drone strikes on targets inside Pakistan will continue, says US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, rejecting Pakistan’s protest that the attacks were a violation of its sovereignty.

Mr Panetta’s first rejection of Pakistan’s stance on this issue came in an interview on Saturday night with Judy Woodruff of the BloombergTelevision who pointed out that last week a senior White House official had acknowledged that the United States was conducting drone strikes inside Pakistan.

“Are those going to continue no matter what the government of Pakistan desires and wants in that regard?” she asked.

“Well, you know, without referring to those specific operations because they still remain covert operations,” said Mr Panetta while trying to evade the issue.The journalist reminded him that President Barack Obama’s chief

Counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged those strikes in a policy statement at a Washington think-tank last week.

“There was some acknowledgement of the fact that they’re used but the basic operations remain sensitive and they remain classified,” Mr Panetta replied.

“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,” he added.

“It sounds like you’re saying they’ll continue,” the journalist observed.

“The United States is going to defend itself under any circumstances,” the US defence secretary said.

Later, in another interview to PBS News, Mr Panetta reiterated that the Obama administration would continue launching drone strikes in the tribal area of Pakistan because these attacks ensured America’s security.

The United States launched two drone strikes in Fata in the last six days. The latest, on Saturday, killed at least 10 people in North Waziristan.

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