Trump administration modified limits on drone strikes, commando raids
Back in 2017, the Trump administration prepared to undertake changes to the Obama-era guidelines and limits on how drone strikes and overseas commando raids are conducted, allowing for far less restrictions on their use, including the potential for strikes in countries where the US is not currently operating in a counter-terrorist capacity.
With regards to drone strikes, national security advisers have proposed that drone strikes not be limited to “high value targets” – those targets with a leadership or high level operational role that poses a “continuing and imminent threat” to American lives – but instead be expanded to include all members of a militant organisation in a conflict zone.
It would also be the case that both drone strikes and special forces raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting before approval. Under Obama, the “Disposition Matrix” was developed primarily by the National Counterterrorism Centre, with input from multiple agencies and in consultation with the CIA Director and JSOC, with the final authority to authorise a strike residing with the President.
An expansion of the War on Terrorism
The end result of these policies will undoubtedly be an expansion of US military action against terrorist groups not only in the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but likely extending into African conflict zones and Central Asia where the US does not current operate in this capacity. It will also almost certainly result in an increased number of strikes in existing combat zones.
The Trump administration has agreed to keep in place Obama-era rules which required strikes to have a near certainty that no nearby civilians would be killed, however this is not likely to reassure human rights activists such as Amnesty International, who have said some previous strikes may amount to “war crimes”. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, between 384 and 807 civilians were killed in strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan between 2009 and 2015. This has in particular contributed to tensions between the USA and Pakistan in recent years, with Pakistan calling the strikes illegal and a violation of their territorial integrity.
There has already been concerned raised about loosened restrictions on conventional military air-strikes by US forces in Iraq and Syria, which saw a jump in the number of reported civilian casualties in the first 3 months of 2017. Some analysts have suggested this increase could be in part attributed to changes in procedure by the Trump administration, which shifted more control for authorising air-strikes to the Pentagon.
Marc Simms is an occasional blogger for Proelium Law LLP. Marc holds a MLitt in Terrorism Studies and a Masters in International Relations, both from St Andrews. His particular interests are in emerging international security issues, unconventional warfare and terrorism.
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