Drone strikes carried out by American forces have quietly increased significantly in the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration, The Daily Beast reports.
President Barack Obama was infamous for escalating drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as Yemen and Somalia. In his first two years in office, Obama launched 186 drone strikes in the three countries.
President Donald Trump has already launched 238 drone strikes in those three countries in just 20 months.
The numbers provided to the Daily Beast by U.S. Central Command and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London reflect only drone strikes in those three countries. They do not include Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where most of the drone strikes have been launched. Experts say drone strikes in those war-torn countries are more difficult to track. According to the report, drone strikes in Afghanistan have reached a near-high and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria hit all-time highs in the Summer of 2017.
Former US counterterrorism officials expressed concern that Trump was easing the standards put in place under Obama.
“The burden of proof on the target was changed to a lesser burden of proof, and so that automatically opens up the aperture when you’re looking at intelligence and you have a probability factor, or a reasonable one, that your target is there,” retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, the former commander of special forces in Africa, told The Daily Beast.
Under Obama, officials were required to have “near certainty” that a senior terrorist leader was at the targeted location, Bolduc explained. Under Trump, at least in Somalia, the standard has dropped to “reasonable certainty.”
“Near certainty was a higher burden of proof. It required more platforms, different types of intelligence, HUMINT [human informants], SIGINT [surveillance intercepts], FMV [full-motion video], a lot more detail and pattern-of-life” Information, he added.
Expert says strikes haven’t increased, just relocated:
“Overall, the U.S. is capable only of a finite number of drone strikes a year, and I've seen no evidence of an overall increase under Trump—only regional variations in strike numbers year on year, as Washington pursues its conflict and counterterrorism goals,” Chris Woods of the drone-tracking organization Airwars told The Daily Beast.
“In my view, it’s not an issue of strikes intensifying under Trump. It’s about the ever-changing tempo and needs of America’s counterterrorism focus. Where America’s current counterterrorism preoccupations are, that’s where you see concentrations of drone strikes,” he added.
Former general says US needs more effective strategy:
“The big problem with this is that there’s no long-term success with this,” Bolduc told The Daily Beast. “I’m not saying it’s not necessary to kill [terrorist] leadership, but it’s necessary to be tied into a strategy that has long-term effects and is balanced with the other things SOF [special operations forces] is doing on the ground. If it’s not, you’re not going to get to peace or good governance or improve the security environment or get to a point where they can start helping the people in these areas. You’re certainly not going to degrade the ideology by doing this.”
Obama legacy tarnished by drone campaign:
The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill skewered Obama for desensitizing anti-war liberals who decried George W. Bush for creating a situation that allowed Trump to expand the drone campaign.
“Obama… continued some of the worst policies of the George W. Bush administration. He expanded the global battlefield post-9/11 into at least seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria,” Scahill wrote. At the end of Obama’s second term, a report by Council of Foreign Relations found that in 2016, Obama dropped an average of 72 bombs a day.”
“He used drone strikes as a liberal panacea for fighting those ‘terrorists’ while keeping boots off the ground,” he continued. “But he also expanded the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan. Immigrants were deported in such record numbers under Obama that immigration activists called him the ‘deporter-in-chief.’ And then there were the ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings, where Obama national security officials would order pizza and drink Coke and review the list of potential targets on their secret assassination list.”
“For his liberal base, Obama sanitized a morally bankrupt expansion of war, and used Predator and Reaper drones strapped with Hellfire missiles to kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens stripped of their due process,” he added.