US President Donald Trump is preparing to dismantle key former President Barack Obama-era limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.
The changes would lay the groundwork for possible counterterrorism missions in countries where Islamic militants are active but the US has not previously tried to kill or capture them.
Trump’s top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules, the officials said, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
First, the targets of drone strikes and raids, now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no unique skills or leadership roles.
And second, such proposed strikes by the military and the CIA will no longer undergo high-level vetting.
But administration officials have also agreed that they should keep in place one important constraint for such attacks: a requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be killed.
The proposal to overhaul the rules has quietly taken shape over months of debate among administration officials and awaits Trump’s expected signature.
Despite the preservation of the protections for civilians, the other changes seemed likely to draw criticism from human rights groups.
The policy paves the way for broader and more frequent operations against Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other jihadists.
It would also apply in countries where the US has targeted Islamist militants outside of regular combat for years, including Yemen, Somalia and Libya, and would ease the way to expanding such gray-zone acts of sporadic warfare to elsewhere in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where terrorists operate.
The policy, while containing significant changes, also preserves a key structure of former President Barack Obama’s approach to counterterrorism: dividing the world into war zones and places where higher protections for civilians apply.