CIA ‘given new authority to conduct drone strikes’ as Donald Trump rolls back restrictions

Rob Crilly
US Air Force handout image of a Predator drone

The Trump administration is pushing ahead with plans to loosen restrictions on drone strikes, removing the “near certainty” requirement of no civilian deaths outside war zones, according to US media reports.

It has already given the CIA new authority to launch its own strikes against militants, reported the Wall Street Journal.

And a senior White House official told The Washington Post that a review of drone policy was almost complete and would roll back other constraints imposed by Barack Obama.

In particular, it will allow the Pentagon and CIA more autonomy to launch strikes against al-Qaeda and Isil terrorists without needing White House approval.

“Some of the Obama administration rules were getting in the way of good strikes,” a US official briefed on the matter told NBC News.

President George W Bush authorised America’s first drone strike in 2004 but the programme was rapidly scaled up by Mr Obama, provoking international condemnation and protests in countries such as Pakistan where CIA attacks were blamed for killing hundreds of civilians.

Protector drone

As a result, Mr Obama introduced a rule that no strike could take place outside a war zone unless there was a “near certainty” that civilian deaths could be avoided.

The military or CIA was also required to show an imminent threat to the US.

The requirements, introduced from 2013 onwards, have on occasion been blamed for hampering timely responses to intelligence but were designed in part to set a global standard for regulation as more countries acquired lethal drone technology.

Critics said strikes tended to turn civilian populations against Washington and into the arms of recruiters for terrorist organisations, while supporters said there as no more effective way of removing key militant leaders.

Last July, the American government accepted responsibility for killing up to 116 civilians in strikes in countries where the US was not at war.

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