Washington: Former US defence secretary Robert Gates, who served both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration, has strongly supported the use of drones arguing that these are immense intelligence assets and its strikes limit collateral damage.
"Drones are immensely useful in two respects. First of all, for intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance because they can dwell over a target for an extended period of time, so you get pattern of life and you can really see what`s going on. So they`re an immense asset from an intelligence standpoint," Gates told CNN in an interview.
"From a strike standpoint, they are very precise... So you can far more easily limit collateral damage with a drone than you can with a bomb, even precision-guided munitions off an airplane," he argued.
Responding to a question on civilian deaths due to drones, it is very limited.
"The numbers, I believe, are extremely small. And you do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapon system that you have," he noted.
Gates also favored maintaining some kind of residual force in Afghanistan post 2014.
"It`s very important that we maintain some kind of serious residual presence in Afghanistan for training the Afghan forces and for counterterrorism," he said.
"I think that kind of residual presence is absolutely critical, first of all to signal the Afghans we aren`t abandoning them as we did after they drove the Soviets out in the early `90s or late `80s, but also as a message to the Taliban and to the neighbors that we`re not walking away either," he said.
When asked about the numbers, he said 3,000 is too little and 30,000 is too many. "Well, I guess the way I would put it just instinctively is I strongly believe 3,000 is too little, and 30,000 is too many," Gates said.
"When I say 30,000 is too many, I think, first of all, in terms of the cost for us, but also in terms of the tolerance of the Afghans themselves. So it`s more a political question than it is a military question," he said.