President Donald Trump’s national security team may lift Obama-era restrictions on counter-terrorism missions outside of active war zones, the New York Times reports.
Trump previewed this possible new strategy in early March by designating Yemen as an “active area of hostilities,” which allows the Pentagon to aggressively target al-Qaida without White House approval. Trump’s team may also give Somalia the same designation to target al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab, responsible for the 2013 WestGate massacre in Kenya.
The center of Trump’s discussions revolve around U.S. acceptance of civilian casualties in counter-terrorism strikes and raids, and how to factor in that risk when weighing a strike against an active target. Obama’s rules stipulate that cabinet officers must agree on the threat posed by a target before a strike is approved, along with a broader inter-agency process.
The new rules would instead target terrorists under military protocols which allow for some civilian casualties as long as they weighed proportionally by the commander responsible for approving the operation. The loosening of drone strike protocols couples with broader counter-terrorism policy changes by the administration including a change in rules of engagement in the fight against ISIS, more leeway for Pentagon commanders considering ground raids, and increased willingness to use military force.
All of these changes may also be facets of a multilayered plan by the administration to eradicate the Islamic State. Pentagon officials delivered multiple options to the White House in early March which go beyond purely military options.
“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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