Biden Secretly Limits Counterterrorism Drone Strikes Away From Struggle Zones
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has temporarily placed temporary limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefield zones such as Afghanistan and Syria, and has officially announced a full review of tightening Trump-era rules on such operations.
The military and the CIA must now obtain permission from the White House to attack terrorist suspects in poorly governed locations where there are few American ground forces such as Somalia and Yemen. Under the Trump administration, they were allowed to decide for themselves whether the circumstances on the ground met certain conditions and an attack was justified.
Officials called the stricter controls a stopgap, while the Biden administration, headed by former President Donald J. Trump, reviewed how targeting works both on paper and in practice, and developed its own policies and procedures for combating or capturing terrorism outside of war zones. including minimizing the risk of civilian casualties.
The Biden administration has not announced the new limit values. However, national security adviser Jake Sullivan issued the order on January 20, the day President Biden inaugurated, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Any changes resulting from the review would be the final turning point in a longstanding evolution of the rules for drone attacks outside conventional battlefield zones, an intermittent gray-area combat operation central to the longstanding American counter-terrorism wars that began with the war Response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Counter-terrorism drone warfare has reached its fourth government in Mr. Biden. As Vice President of President Barack Obama, Mr. Biden was part of a previous administration that monitored a significant escalation of targeted killings by remote-controlled aircraft in its first term and placed significant new restrictions on the practice in its second term.
While the Biden government continues to permit counter-terrorism strikes outside of active war zones, the additional screening and bureaucratic hurdles it has imposed could explain a recent lull in such operations. The US military’s Africa Command carried out about half a dozen air strikes in Somalia this calendar year on the Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group – but all of them were before January 20.
Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, admitted that Mr. Biden had issued “preliminary guidelines” on the use of military force and related national security operations.
“The purpose of the preliminary guidance is to ensure that the President is fully informed of the proposed key actions in these areas while the National Security Council staff conduct a thorough review of the Presidential Authority’s existing approvals and delegations on these matters.” Said Horne.
Although Mr Trump has significantly relaxed the limits on counter-terrorism strikes outside of war zones, there have been fewer on his watch than there were under Mr Obama. This is mainly because the nature of the war against al-Qaeda and its fragmented, transformative descendants is constantly changing.
During Mr Obama’s first term in particular, there was a sharp escalation in drone attacks against al-Qaida suspects in the tribal region of Pakistan and rural Yemen. Mr Obama broke new ground by resolving to authorize the 2011 deliberate assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was part of the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda.
Then, after the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its “caliphate” became a magnet for jihadists in recent years by Obama and much of Trump’s presidency. However, the region controlled by ISIS was viewed as a conventional war zone, so air strikes there did not raise the same novel legal and political issues as targeted killings outside of so-called hot battlefields.
The review of the legal and political framework for the alignment by the Biden government is still at a preliminary stage. Officials are expected to collect data such as official estimates of civilian casualties in military and CIA strikes outside battlefield zones during the Trump era. No decisions have been made about the new rules, Ms. Horne said.
“This review includes an examination of previous approaches related to the evolution of counter-terrorism threats in order to refine our future approach,” she said. “The review also seeks to ensure adequate transparency measures.”
One of the questions to consider is whether to tighten a boundary to prevent civilian bystanders from falling victim to such operations. Current rules generally require “near certainty” that no women or children are present in the strike zone, but the Trump team apparently allowed operators to use a lower standard of merely “reasonable assurance” that adult civilian men are unlikely to be killed. said the officials.
Allowing that there is a higher risk of killing civilian men made it easier for the military and the CIA to meet standards for missile firing. But it is also routine for civilians to be armed in the lawless wastelands and failed states for which the rules are written.
Among the tradeoffs under discussion, according to official sources, is that resources for gathering information are limited. For example, if you hold surveillance drones over a potential strike zone longer to watch who comes and goes, they become less available for other operations.
Biden administration officials are also debating whether to write general rules that apply more strictly than the Trump-era system was sometimes in practice. They found that the Trump system was very flexible, allowing officials to organize strike procedures in certain countries to lower standards than those set out in general policy, so the administration’s safeguards on paper were sometimes stricter than on paper Reality.
Officials are also faced with a broader philosophical question: should they revert to the Obama-era approach, which was characterized by centralized surveillance and high-level scrutiny of information on individual terrorist suspects, or stick a little closer to the Trump-era approach looser and more decentralized.
Under the previous rules, which Mr. Obama codified in an ordinance known as PPG in 2013, an acronym for Presidential Policy Guidance, a suspect had to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans to be attacked outside of a war zone. The system led to numerous interagent meetings to discuss whether certain suspects met this standard.
Mr Obama imposed his rules after the frequency of counterterrorism operations skyrocketed in tribal Pakistan and rural Yemen, creating recurring controversy over civilian deaths and the growing perception that armed drones – a new technology that made it easier to launch missiles Firing at suspected enemies in regions that were difficult to reach – got out of control.
However, military and intelligence operators have reached out to the limits of the 2013 rules, complaining that the process tends to lead to many lawyers and endless meetings. In October 2017, Mr Trump scrapped this system and imposed other policy standards and procedures for the use of lethal force outside of war zones.
His replacement instead focused on creating general standards for strikes and assaults in specific countries. It allowed the military and the CIA to attack suspects for their status as members of a terrorist group, even if they were merely foot soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles. And it enabled operators to decide whether certain actions should be taken.
During the change of president, Sullivan and Avril D. Haines, who oversaw the development of Obama’s drone strike game book and are now Biden’s director for national intelligence, have the prospect of tightening Trump-era rules and procedures to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and setbacks from overuse of drones, but not necessarily until the Obama-era system, an official said.
Since Mr. Biden’s inauguration, the subsequent interagency review has been overseen primarily by Elizabeth D. Sherwood-Randall, his homeland security adviser, and Clare Linkins, senior director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council.
The Biden team is also considering restoring an Obama-era order that required the government to publish annual estimates of the number of suspected terrorists and civilian bystanders it killed in air strikes outside of war zones. Mr Obama invoked this requirement in 2016, but Mr Trump removed it in 2019. The military is releasing some information about its strikes in places like Somalia separately, but the CIA does not.
While the New York Times reported on Mr. Trump’s surrogate rules in 2017, the Trump administration never published its drone policies or publicly discussed the parameters and principles that framed them, noted Luke Hartig, who is a top counter-terrorism advisor to Mr. Obamas White worked house.
Mr Hartig alleged there was good reason to believe that the government did not publicly recognize the full range of strikes conducted under Mr Trump and said it was appropriate for the Biden team to gather more information about this period before deciding whether and how to change the system that controlled it.
“The administration has a lot to do to restore higher standards after the Trump administration, but it shouldn’t just fall back on the Obama rules,” he said. “The world has changed. The fight against terrorism has evolved. “