Trump gives military unusually free rein to conduct drone strikes

President Trump has given the military the authority to conduct drone strikes without his prior approval. Human-rights advocates fear many more civilian deaths might be the result.
By Linda Mack | Sep 30, 2017
Presidents Bush and Obama both ordered numerous military drone strikes while in office. But this week, a historical first in drone warfare occurred: The U.S. military carried out a drone strike with no direct order from the White House whatsoever.

The strike, which killed an unspecified number of ISIS fighters in Libya on Tuesday, was the first to take place under a White House directive that authorizes the U.S. military and CIA to launch drone attacks at their own discretion, according to U.S. Africa Command. No explicit White House approval is necessary.

This strike was also exceptional in that it took place outside a designated war zone where the United States is currently at war. No U.S. drone attack has taken place in Libya since January, when Obama personally signed off on a strike the day before he vacated the White House. Libya was a designated war zone at the time of Obama's drone strike order, but that designation expired before the more recent drone strike.

Trump stated his intentions to loosen Obama-era restrictions on drones earlier in March. He argued that a robust U.S. defense policy required doing away with the "bureaucracy" surrounding rules of engagement.

Critics, however, counter that the bureaucracy is there for a reason. Letta Tayler, a Human Rights Watch terrorism and counterterrorism researcher, told the Independent that oversight of drone operations is necessary to safeguard against unnecessary killingsespecially of civilians.

"Removing high-level vetting and the requirement that the targeted individuals pose a threat to Americans opens a wide door to increasing civilian casualties," Tayler said.


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