Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders says his rival Hillary Clinton "obviously" poses a greater risk of getting the U.S. involved in a conflict like the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but says he too is "absolutely prepared to use force."
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the senator from Vermont said he is "absolutely not" a pacifist, pointing out that, "for better or worse," he supported President Bill Clinton's intervention in Kosovo and "voted for the war in Afghanistan because I thought that bin Laden should be brought to justice."
Sanders also noted his support for President Barack Obama's use of unmanned aircraft to kill suspected militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
"Drones are a big issue," Sanders continued. "And drones have done some good things. They've been selective; they've taken out people who should be taken out."
Drones have also done "some terrible things, which have been counterproductive to the United States," said Sanders. "But would I rule them out completely? No, I would not. But I am aware that they have in some cases, you know, you use a drone and you end up killing 40 people in a wedding in Afghanistan; that is not a terribly humane thing to do or productive thing to do."
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CIA drone strikes in Afghanistan have killed between 1,300 and 1,800 people, at least 61 of them civilians. In Pakistan, as many as 4,000 people have been killed in drone strikes, between 420 and 965 of them civilians. And in Yemen, more than 500 people have been killed by U.S. drones, with 65 to 101 of them civilians.
In terms of how to combat the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Sanders offered support for the current U.S. strategy. "I think that air attacks have been helpful," he said, citing an estimate that the extremist group has lost around 20 percent of its territory in the last year. "The Iraqi army is beginning, god willing, to show a little bit of gumption and capabilities in taking back Ramadi, which is no small thing. And hopefully they will continue to be aggressive, and we've got to use, you know, kind of coordinate with the Kurds and everybody else."
And "yes," Sanders continued, "I think (the U.S. should be) using special forces in the appropriate way."
Despite his avowed support for U.S. intervention abroad, Sanders contrasted his position with Clinton, saying the former secretary of state "is much more into regime change, much more into U.S. use of troops than I am."
"I've studied regime change for a long time," said Sanders. "And you know what? It looks good on day one. Often it does not work."
"You use force when the security of the United States is in danger," said Sanders. "That's when you use force. But you don't use force just because there are some awful people out there who we hate."