‘Trump looking to loosen Obama limits on drone strikes’

Rights group outraged as reports say president considering policy changes to expand CIA authority on attacks and raids.

Alleged US drone campaign against AQAP in Yemen
At least 30 civilians have been killed in US ground raids and drone attacks in Yemen this year, says rights group [File: EPA]

US President Donald Trump is seeking to loosen some Obama-era limits on drone attacks and ground raids outside conventional warzones, US media reports have said.

The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, reported on Thursday that Trump’s top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules from the administration of Barack Obama, the former US president.

The officials said the targets of kill missions by the military and the CIA would be expanded to include foot-soldier fighters with no special skills or leadership roles. 

The officials added that proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting. 

The New York Times report comes after NBC News published a story on Monday about the Trump administration contemplating policy changes that will further expand the CIA’s authority to conduct drone raids in a number of countries, both in and out of warzones.

NBC News cited officials at intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, Congress and the White House, who all requested anonymity to discuss the classified programme.

READ MORE: Should we be scared of Trump’s drone reforms?

The international human rights organisation Reprieve has found that since Trump took office in January this year, at least 30 civilians have been killed in ground raids and drone attacks in Yemen, where the US is not formally at war. That number includes women and children.

‘Foreign policy disaster’

The US military has admitted that civilians, including children, were probably killed in Yemen, in the first operation authorised by Trump. 

In one week in March, the Trump administration conducted some 40 attacks in Yemen, including 25 on a single day.

The US government has also conducted drone attacks in Pakistan this year. 

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, called the new proposals a “foreign policy disaster”, which she believes would put more civilians lives at risk. 

“The US has the right to defend itself against imminent attack, but as our recent investigation in Yemen shows, the drone programme has already moved far from that – selecting targets on the basis of shaky intelligence, and killing hundreds of people, including children,” she said in statement on Friday.

READ MORE: Drone – Inside the CIA’s Secret Drone War

Foa added: “Loosening the already poor safeguards in place will cause more innocents to die, stoke the flames of extremism and do nothing to make Americans safer.”

During his term, Obama faced criticism for his dramatic escalation of drone raids in non-battlefield settings such as Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.

Analysts say Trump is already surpassing Obama’s record. According to Micah Zenko, an expert on drones at the Council on Foreign Relations, Obama’s administration conducted one attack every 5.4 days.

Trump has thus far averaged one attack or raid every 1.25 days.

Source: Al Jazeera