Donald Lambro

President Obama's proposed policy changes on the use of drones to kill key terrorist leaders has raised more questions than it has answered.

Under pressure from leftist, anti-drone activists among groups like Amnesty International, Obama has suggested making the rules governing these airborne weapons more stringent when a strike might result in civilian casualties.

While he defends their use as legal and necessary in the battle against terrorists, he made it clear in last week's address at the National Defense University that he intends to place further restrictions on the use of drones in what he still refuses to call the war on terrorism.

"And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured -- the highest standard we can set," Obama said.

He added, that "by narrowly targeting our [drone] action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life."

Message to al Qaeda terrorists in the Arabian Peninsula and

elsewhere: Surround yourself with civilians and you'll very likely be protected from one of our drone attacks.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't look for opportunities where terrorist murderers can be taken out without the loss of innocent life. But we needn't broadcast our rules of engagement to the world and to our enemies. Better that they continue to believe there are no safe places for them to hide.

The use of pilotless drones, begun by President George W. Bush and vigorously expanded under Obama, has given the U.S. a major strategic advantage in the war on terror.

There have been nearly 400 drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia by American military forces and the CIA thus far in Obama's presidency. And they have killed hundreds of the most dangerous military leaders in the al Qaeda terrorist network.

But now, under pressure from the drone program's leftist critics, the administration is preparing strategic changes in its operations: narrowing rules of engagement and curbing the CIA's enlarged role in drone warfare by turning it over to our military forces.

The tone of Obama's address and the changes he wants to implement -- that include closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison --- have triggered a firestorm of Republican criticism.

Needless to say, the president's many GOP critics do not agree with his repeated insistence that al Qaeda is "on the path to defeat," the questionable theme in last week's national security address.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.