On March 9th, the US Department of Defense confirmed that President Joe Biden imposed new rules on how the military and intelligence services can conduct drone strikes and commando raids in some conflict zones.
This is yet another return to previous policy, as former President Donald Trump attempted to allegedly dismantle this command form.
During Trump’s presidency, the supervision, policy standards, and procedures for using lethal force outside designated war zones that his predecessor Barack Obama had put in place in a 2013 order were removed.
Military and intelligence operators complained that under that system, policy limitations had become a cause for too much lawyering and interminable meetings.
Obama devised that system after the number of deadly US drone strikes under his own presidency soared, prompting international outcry over the civilian deaths in those operations.
Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the new rules represent “interim guidance” that was issued “to ensure the president has full visibility on proposed, significant actions, which the National Security Council will review.”
Kirby added that the new rules were part of a broader review by the Biden administration into the legal and policy frameworks that govern when and how those missions take place outside of parts of the world that are clearly defined as war zones, like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
“It’s too early to come to grips with what reality is going to be, or the impact it’s going to have on specific parts of the world or on specific terrorist groups,” Kirby said.
“It’s interim. It’s not meant to be permanent, and it doesn’t mean it’s a cessation” of the drone and commando strikes, he added. “The authorities in some parts of the world are going to get visibility at the National Security Council.”
The New York Times first reported last week that Biden had secretly limited assassination drone strikes away from the war zones, requiring military and intelligence operators to gain higher-level approval as a stopgap measure to tighten the loosened Trump-era assassination activities and airstrikes.
Analysts say it’s not yet clear the extent to which Biden’s review represents a return to the policies in place when he was vice president under Obama or something else.
“The first step, and it is a prudent one, is to assess how this is all working,” says Karl Kaltenthaler, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Akron, who closely follows lethal drone strikes and the laws and policies governing them. “There has been some major confusion about who is making the calls on these things and under what authority.”
“It might be a return to more oversight of weapons releases and targeting and not so much delegation to the CIA to decide these things,” Kaltenthaler adds. “This is likely an attempt to make this more rule-based and on solid legal foundation.”
This is, however, yet another example of how Biden’s presidency is just a revamped Obama presidency under the supervision of VP Kamala Harris and others.
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