April 26, 2015 / 3:53 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. Sen. McCain urges shifting drone program to Pentagon

WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - Drone strikes against suspected enemy combatants on foreign soil should be run by the U.S. military and not the CIA, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said on Sunday.

McCain made his remarks on CNN's "State of the Union" broadcast just days after it was disclosed that a drone strike in Pakistan in January mistakenly killed two Western hostages: an American and an Italian.

"I think it was probably preventable, in that there was an obvious breakdown in intelligence. They didn't know that they were there," McCain said of the January drone strike.

The Republican senator and 2008 failed presidential candidate predicted the incident will renew a debate within the Obama administration on how the drone program is run.

However, there still appeared to be strong support in Congress for employing the unmanned drones against enemy targets, which has expanded during the Obama administration. Critics have long complained about civilians being killed in the air strikes.

It is an "integral part of the conflict and a very essential one," McCain told CNN.

McCain acknowledged "some bias" on which federal agency should operate the drone program, given that shifting it to the Pentagon from the CIA would put it under his purview as chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the military.

Nevertheless, McCain said the Pentagon had the expertise and, "I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense."

The United States was targeting an al Qaeda compound in Pakistan when a drone strike killed American hostage Warren Weinstein, who had been held since 2011, and Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto, as well as an al Qaeda leader who also was an American.

Obama last week publicly apologized for the hostage deaths and took "full responsibility" for all counter terrorism operations.

Several investigations, including by the CIA and Congress, are anticipated.

Reporting By Richard Cowan

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