This roundup, curated by ReThink Media, looks at how the media is talking about drone warfare (and related topics) and what stories are being told.
With little transparency from governments on this topic, this roundup aims to be as comprehensive as possible, identifying breaking news, trends, developing stories, or interesting narratives. Rethink Media also use media coverage to compile a snapshot of strikes each week. The short version can be read here.
The Pentagon on Monday confirmed President Joe Biden has imposed new rules on how the military and intelligence services can conduct drone strikes and commando raids in some conflict zones. [US News & World Report / Paul Shinkman]
A new NYT article describes Trump’s drone strike policy and more on what Biden’s review process looks like so far.
The Biden administration has quietly imposed temporary limits on counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefield zones like Afghanistan and Syria, and it has begun a broad review of whether to tighten Trump-era rules for such operations, according to officials.
The military and the C.I.A. must now obtain White House permission to attack terrorism suspects in poorly governed places where there are scant American ground troops, like Somalia and Yemen. Under the Trump administration, they had been allowed to decide for themselves whether circumstances on the ground met certain conditions and an attack was justified.
Biden administration officials are also discussing whether to write general rules that are more strictly applied than the Trump-era system sometimes was in practice. They discovered that the Trump system was very flexible and allowed officials to craft procedures for strikes in particular countries using lower standards than those laid out in the general policy, so that administration’s safeguards were sometimes stronger on paper than in reality.
Officials are also confronting a broader philosophical issue: whether to return to the Obama-era approach, which was characterized by centralized oversight and high-level vetting of intelligence about individual terrorism suspects, or maintain something closer to the Trump-era approach, which was looser and more decentralized. [NYT / Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt]
“President Biden promised to end forever wars, but tinkering with the bureaucracy of this extrajudicial killing program will only entrench American abuses,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, said in a statement. “In the name of counterterrorism, US presidents have for two decades authorised unlawful, secretive, and unaccountable killing abroad.” [The Independent / Josh Marcus]
Reps. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) and Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) criticized the move as “yet another bureaucratic impediment that will give our enemies an advantage.” Rogers, the ranking Republican on the armed services panel and McCaul, his counterpart on foreign affairs, said in a statement: “While our operators wait for approval from Washington, terrorists will escape to plot and fight against the United States and our allies for another day.” [WaPo / Ellen Nakashima and Missy Ryan]
MORE: AFRICOM now needs White House approval for airstrikes [Stars and Stripes / John Vandiver]
Senior Somali military officials worry the new guidance, which has imposed tighter controls on ordering airstrikes and requires the White House to sign off on operations, means al-Shabab will begin to gather momentum. [Voice of America / Harun Maruf and Jeff Seldin]
COMMENTARY: “ This review should certainly embrace the core principles underpinning the 2013 Obama policy – a high threshold for action, an emphasis on preventing civilian casualties, and deliberative review of operations – but these should be updated for the current era. And more broadly, the administration should see this review as an opportunity take some first critical steps toward ending the forever wars.” [Just Security / Luke Hartig] COMMENTARY: “Revoking any of the several AUMFs on the books would be a positive step, but if they are replaced, as Psaki promised, with another “framework”—however closely regulated—to unilaterally bomb anyone America deems a terrorist, it will be a worse outcome. A return to the Obama-era regime of unacknowledged drone strikes and secret assassinations, supposedly planned by responsible adults with care and deliberation, would simply re-entrench the militaristic paradigm that progressive politicians have ample reason to oppose.” [The New Republic / Jacob Silverman]
COMMENTARY: “If Biden wants to actually respect and protect American troops, he must put a stop to stupid, endless wars” [Business Insider / Lawrence Wilkerson]
TWEET: “Rolling back the Trump administration’s free-for-all drone strike policy is a good first step toward repairing the damage caused by our incoherent foreign policy over the past four years. Now it’s time to craft a foreign policy based in human rights and diplomacy, not warfare.” [Rep. Andy Levin via Twitter]
Remote C.I.A. base in Niger steadily grows
Deep in the Sahara, the C.I.A. is continuing to conduct secret drone flights from a small but steadily expanding air base, even as the Biden administration has temporarily limited drone strikes against suspected terrorists outside conventional war zones.
There is no public evidence that the agency has carried out anything but surveillance missions so far. The expanding capabilities at the base indicate that the C.I.A. would be ready to carry out armed drone strikes if the high-level review permits them. [NYT / Eric Schmitt and Christopher Koettl]
Reduced U.S. military support in battles against the Taliban is frustrating efforts by Afghanistan’s elite forces to roll back the militants’ advances here, with decreased airstrikes and a shortage of advanced technology slowing their ground operations.
One key piece of equipment that Gen. Haibatullah Alizai, the commander of Afghanistan’s Special Operations Corps, said would help the Afghan forces’ effectiveness is armed surveillance drones, a tool that was pivotal to U.S.-backed gains against the Taliban. Alizai said it takes Afghan forces longer to strike a target after it has been identified by an unarmed drone because an armed aircraft then has to be dispatched.
“We don’t want another American soldier to die on the ground here,” Alizai said. “The United States has spent billions of dollars [in Afghanistan]. They should just give us the technology we need and leave the war to us.”
A senior Afghan defense official said the government had not made an official request for armed drones from the United States, but “it is always good for us to have more advanced technology and support.” [WaPo / Susannah George]
COMMENTARY: Withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan is only a start. We have to end the air war too. [The Nation / Phyllis Bennis]
The president has temporarily paused the $23 billion weapons package to the UAE. His final decision will show if he’s serious about building a more progressive foreign policy.[HuffPost / Akbar Shahid Ahmed]
Drones could be SOCOM armed overwatch contenders, Slife says. [Air Force Magazine / Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory]
Drone Wars is undertaking legal action in an attempt to gain details of secret British Reaper drone operations that has been taking place since at least 2019. Appealing against the MoD’s refusal to answer both FoI requests and parliamentary questions about these missions, Drone Wars is seeking answers before an Information Tribunal. [Drone Wars]
Israel sells surveillance drones to unnamed East Asian country [Middle East Monitor]
Yemen’s Houthi forces on Sunday fired drones and missiles at a Saudi Aramco oil company facility at Ras Tanura and military targets in the Saudi cities of Dammam, Asir and Jazan, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesman said. [Reuters]
COMMENTARY: We need an international treaty to ban weaponized drones [Truthout / Kathy Kelly]