President Donald Trump cleared the way for the U.S. to bomb al-Qaida in Yemen, ahead of a flurry of airstrikes on the terrorist group.
The Trump administration has now classified Yemen as an “area of active hostility,” which lets the military launch strikes against terror targets without clearing it through a long approval process. U.S. aircraft struck Yemen 25 separate strikes across the country, signaling a major uptick in anti al-Qaida operations.
The strikes may preview a broader shift in military decision making under the Trump administration. Trump is considering giving much more leeway to Secretary of Defense James Mattis to launch raids against terrorists without timely authorization from the White House. The policy would lie in stark contrast to the Obama administration, which had lengthy review processes for counter-terrorism raids, frustrating some commanders in the military.
Trump repeatedly criticized these policies throughout the 2016 campaign, and has already loosened rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq assisting the fight against the Islamic State. U.S. special operators now accompany some Iraqi troops inside the city of Mosul, and commanders no longer have to clear some strikes up the chain of command in time sensitive operations.
U.S. commanders may need the new classification in Yemen to act on intelligence garnered from a late night Jan. 29 raid by Navy SEALs on an al-Qaida compound. U.S. intelligence officials are now trying to run down hundreds of contacts garnered from the raid, CNN reports. Some of the contacts reside in the west, and may be trying to plot terror attacks.
Rules of engagement in the fight against ISIS will likely be a key element of Trump’s escalation against ISIS. The Pentagon confirmed to reporters Monday it delivered multiple options to the White House, which are now likely under review by the National Security Council.
“This plan is a political-military plan,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience Friday. “The grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed.”
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