President Donald Trump has revoked an Obama-era policy that required the US government to publish an annual report on the number of civilians killed in drone strikes on high-value terrorists in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
The 2016 executive order was brought in by then-President Barack Obama, who was under pressure to be more transparent on drone strikes carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Since the 9/11 Al-Qaeda terror attack, drone strikes have been increasingly used against terror and military targets. The Trump administration said the 2016 rule was "superfluous" and distracting. The order applied to the CIA, which has been carrying out drone strikes in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia.
The CIA-operated drone strikes in Pakistan have killed top terrorists like Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in 2016, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud in 2009 and Hakimullah Mehsud, TTP chief, in 2013. Khalid Mehsud, the TTP deputy chief was killed in a US drone strike in 2018 Pakistan's North Waziristan.
President Trump's action "eliminates superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission," a National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday, March 7.
The Obama-era rule required the head of the CIA to release annual summaries of US drone strikes and assess how many died as a result. Trump's executive order on Wednesday, March 6 does not overturn reporting requirements on civilian deaths set for the military by Congress.
There have been 2,243 drone strikes in the first two years of the Trump presidency, compared with 1,878 in Obama's eight years in office, the BBC quoted figures of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based think tank.
Officials pointed to a major defence law passed by Congress last year that requires the administration to submit a civilian casualty report to lawmakers. That measure, however, allows the Defense Secretary to classify the report if he decides that its publication would pose a national security threat, The Hill reported.
The provision applies to military operations and does not cover drone strikes carried out by the CIA, which oftentimes carries out strikes in areas where US forces are not present. Meanwhile, former Obama administration officials criticised Trump's decision, which they said will deprive the public of the ability to hold the government accountable for civilian deaths.
Daphne Eviatar, an official with Amnesty International USA, blasted Trump's decision as "unconscionable" and a "complete disregard of fundamental human rights." "This is a shameful decision that will shroud this administration's actions in even more secrecy with little accountability for its victims," she said.