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Drones: Medal Created For Remote 'Warriors'

The Pentagon has unveiled a new medal to honour "extraordinary" troops who launch cyber attacks or drone strikes, even if they do not risk their lives in combat.

Announcing the new 'Distinguished Warfare Medal', defence secretary Leon Panetta said it was time to recognise those who play a crucial role in modern warfare with hi-tech weapons far from the frontline.

"Our military reserves its highest decorations obviously for those who display gallantry and valour in actions where their lives are on the line, and we will continue to do so," Mr Panetta told a Pentagon news conference.

"But we should also have the ability to honour the extraordinary actions that make a true difference in combat operations."

Operators of unmanned, robotic aircraft and cyber weapons "contribute to the success of combat operations, particularly when they remove the enemy from the field of battle, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight," he said.

The medal reflects a new age of warfare that emerged over the past decade featuring robotic weapons and digital combat.

Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and bombs have been used to kill insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the CIA to go after suspected al Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

Other robotic aircraft, including the stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel and larger Global Hawks, are used to spy on adversaries from the sky without putting pilots in harm's way.

The military also views cyberspace as a new battlefield and has created a new command dedicated to digital warfare, recruiting and training new "cyber warriors".

The medal is designed as a brass pendant, nearly two inches tall, that will carry a laurel wreath encircling a globe with a Defence Department eagle at its centre, attached to a red, white and blue striped ribbon.

It will only be given to troops for their role in operations that took place after the attacks of September 11, 2001 but, unlike other military medals, will not require that the soldier performed a courageous physical act that put his or her life in danger.

The new medal will be ranked higher than the Bronze Star, the fourth highest combat decoration, but lower than the Silver Star, officials said.

Drone strikes have been heavily criticised by human rights organisations but American officials believe they are a crucial weapon in the fight against Islamist militants.