President Trump has given the CIA new authority to conduct drone strikes in Syria, reversing an Obama-era decision to restrict the spy agency’s capabilities on the battlefield, The Wall Street Journal reports.
After relying for years on CIA drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen, and killing plenty of civilians in the process, President Obama tightened the rules on the agency in 2013. Instead of conducting surveillance and launching missiles, CIA drones would do only the former. The latter would be carried out by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command.
The change was made, in part, because Obama thought the CIA should focus on intelligence gathering. But it was also a move toward transparency. Drone strikes made by the CIA are kept secret while those carried out by the Pentagon are typically acknowledged publicly.
While that change resulted in a decrease in CIA drone strikes, it didn’t eliminate them. Last June, the CIA was reportedly on pace to conduct 12 strikes in the entire year. With Trump restoring the CIA’s powers, it seems that number will go up in 2017.
The CIA has already gotten to work using its new power, given by Trump shortly after his inauguration. In late February an Al Qaeda higher-up was targeted in Syria. The WSJ says the CIA’s restored striking authority only applies in Syria, but others have speculated that a strike that killed two men in Pakistan early this month, which the Defense Department has not acknowledged, was carried out by the CIA.
Trump’s decisions to give more power to a agency he compared to Nazis may seem odd, but it’s all a part of an attempt to loosen restrictions on the military. As the Times reported Sunday, Trump is signing off on Pentagon requests to declare parts of Yemen and Somalia “areas of active hostilities,” where battlefield rules are less strict, and generally seeking to relax rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties.