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White House publicly acknowledges drone strikes

Top White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said today that Al Qaeda is now "on the path to its destruction" in a major speech that for the first time publicly acknowledged the role of "targeted strikes" using remotely piloted vehicles, otherwise known as drones.

The drone program against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen has long been officially classified, even though its use has been widely reported and become a central component of President Obama's counter-terrorism efforts.

But, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death, Brennan essentially declassified the program, saying the use of such vehicles gives the government "laser-like" precision to target terrorists planning attacks on the United States.

Brennan also acknowledged -- again for first time -- "innocent civilians have been killed in these strikes." But he said such instances have been "exceedingly rare, but it has happened. When it does, it pains us and we regret it deeply, as we do any time innocents are killed in war."

Brennan did not give any details, and he declined to answer how many times the White House has declined to proceed with drone strikes recommended by intelligence agencies.