Study finds current administration on pace to dramatically intensify use of drone strikes already boosted under Obama
America’s use of armed drones is increasing under President Donald Trump just as oversight of the lethal technology appears to be dwindling, a study released on Thursday found.
The report by the nonpartisan Stimson Center think tank looks back at Trump’s drone actions during his first year in office, when he moved quickly to loosen some of the constraints put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama.
Trump has given battlefield commanders greater leeway to authorize drone strikes without first seeking approval from the White House or Washington security officials. The Pentagon says this gives commanders better ability to make real-time decisions and insists the looser restrictions have not lowered the threshold at which it is prepared to execute a drone strike that could risk civilian deaths.
The Stimson report found that Trump is on pace to dramatically intensify America’s use of lethal drones, which already had seen a rapid increase under Obama. For instance, in the eight years from 2009-2016, Obama authorized more than 550 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as other countries where the United States was not technically at war.
“President Trump reportedly authorized at least 80 strikes in his first year in office in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and is on pace to surpass the strike tempo of both of his predecessors, which perhaps signals a greater willingness to use lethal force,” the Stimson study states.
The study also notes that the CIA reportedly wants to expand its power to conduct covert drone strikes in war zones such as Afghanistan, where such actions are usually led by the military. “Should such a policy proposal be adopted, it would mark a shift in CIA activities in Afghanistan and represent an expansion of the agency’s authority to conduct covert strikes in counterterrorism operations, thereby decreasing levels of transparency,” the report states.
Study author Rachel Stohl has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s drone policy, which she said was already shrouded in too much secrecy. But she said she was now “wistful” for even Obama’s limited attempts to provide some sort of public accounting of the U.S. drone program.
“U.S. drone policy under the Trump administration has thus far been defined by uncertainty coupled with less oversight and less transparency,” Stohl said.
The report outlines a series of recommendations including for the Trump administration to publicly release and explain any new drone policies and standards.