US president Donald Trump has given new authority to the Central Intelligence Agency to use drone strikes against suspected terrorists that were fully vested in the military under the Obama administration in the interest of transparency and reducing the number of unintended casualties.
The administration was finishing a review that would allow the Pentagon to carry out drone strikes anywhere in the world by lowering the acceptable threshold for civilian casualties and rolling back constraints put in place by President Obama in 2013.
The first strike under the new authority took place in February, targeting senior al Qaeda leader in Syria, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the changed rules.
The Journal also reported that though US officials insisted the new authority applied specifically to operations in Syria, a drone strike was conducted in a Pakistani village close to the border with Afghanistan earlier his month, which was not acknowledged by the Pentagon.
The CIA works under secret authorities and doesn’t have to announce the strikes, the targets and unintended casualties, which the Pentagon did.
Trump, who has indicated he wants to escalate the fight against Islamic State and other terrorists, changed the rules days after his visit to CIA on January 21, now famous for his boasting about his electoral victory and rant against the press.
The new authority is expected to reignite the human rights debate about these strikes that had pushed President Obama in 2013 to shift control to the Pentagon to make it a more transparent process with accountability, specially in view of unintended victims, bystanders mostly.
While not subject to public scrutiny, CIA adheres to a higher standard for vetting targets using the measure of “near certainty” against the military’s “reasonable certainty” for battlefield strikes and and “near certainty” for the ones outside, the Journal reported.
The review of the policy on drone strikes will also allow the Pentagon to order strikes without checking with the White House, as had been mandated by President Obama, who had tried to bring transparency and accountability to the process, as he leaned on it heavily as a substitute for military deployment.