President Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, U.S. officials said, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon.
The Obama administration put the military in charge of pulling the trigger to promote transparency and accountability. The CIA, which operates under covert authorities, wasn’t required to disclose the number of suspected terrorists or civilian bystanders it killed in drone strikes. The Pentagon, however, must publicly report most airstrikes.
The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure.The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike.
The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was the best example of that hybrid approach, U.S. officials said.
“The Trump administration is also giving the military more authority to conduct operations on its own without first getting a sign off from the Pentagon or the White House,” the report said.
Officials said Trump’s new order specifically applies to CIA operations in Syria, but it could eventually be extended to other operations against terrorists in other countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
The official said the CIA first used its new authority to carry out drone strikes in late February in an attack in northern Syria, which killed Al Qaeda leader Abu al-Jair al-Masri, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law.
Al Qaeda confirmed on March 2 that al-Masri was killed by a drone.
US drone strikes were halted in the last eight months of the Obama Administration.
In recent weeks, top Pentagon generals have expressed concerns over the continued presence of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.
CIA drone strikes were quite successful in elimination of high profile terrorists from the safe havens of Pakistan.
Spokesmen for the Pentagon and the CIA declined to comment.