The Washington Post reported Thursday President Trump inquired why a CIA drone strike didn’t also kill the target’s family.
According to reports, the President was viewing a recording of a drone strike on his first ever visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Officials coordinating the drone strike waited until the the targeted terrorist left his family’s home. After viewing the recording, President Trump asked the CIA’s head of drone operations, “Why did you wait?”
The agency official responded the CIA uses a number of techniques to reduce civilian casualties. According to the reports, President Trump was “unimpressed” by the response. There are no indications that the President was referring to the drone operative’s resistance to killing civilians, not the logistics of the attack. However, the media has jumped to paint the alleged comment as demonstrating President Trump’s disregard for civilian casualties.
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Trump Controversy: Kill Terrorists’ Families
President Trump caused controversy on the campaign trail in 2015 by saying the US should target the families of terrorists as well as a way of deterring terrorism. During an interview with Fox and Friends in December 2015, then Candidate Trump said, “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” He also criticized the US for fighting a “politically correct war.”
Trump’s comments were seized upon by the media and the other Republican presidential candidates who accused him of advocating for war crimes, violating the Geneva Convention.
Trump later said he would “not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans, and I will meet those responsibilities.”
Last May, the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) claimed a US-led coalition airstrike hit a building housing the family members of ISIS militants. According to SOHR, the two airstrikes led to the death of 106 people including 42 children under the age of 16.
Under the Trump administration, both the number of airstrikes in Syria, as well as the number of civilians killed increased. Before Trump took office, the military reported that 188 civilians had been killed since the beginning of US engagement in 2014. This number increased to 831 by 2017.
The Military wrote in their report, “Although the coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimises the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable.”
According to reports from Airwars, a watchdog group monitoring civilians deaths in Syria, after President Trump took office, the number of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq against ISIS militants increased by 50%. Airwars also claims civilian deaths have increased by 215%. They postulate that 6,047 civilians have been killed since 2014.
Airwars reported in January 2018:
Non-combatant deaths from Coalition air and artillery strikes rose by more than 200 per cent compared to 2016, rising to between 3,923 and 6,102 civilians estimated killed during the year according to Airwars tallies. By another measure, roughly 65% of all civilian deaths from Coalition actions tracked by our team since 2014 occurred over the last 12 months. This unprecedented death toll coincided with the start of the Trump presidency, and suggested in part that policies aimed at protecting civilians had been scaled back under the new administration.
A Hands Off Approach
Others have claimed the increase in casualties are due to President Trump taking less of a proactive role in military decisions than President Barack Obama. Trump had said in the past he would allow the best military commanders to do their job free from micromanaging and political correctness. He said, “We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
Military observers worried that a lack of civilian voices in military decisions would lead to more civilian deaths.
Defense Secretary James Mattis told CBS:
I would point out here that we have not changed the rules of engagement. There is no relaxation of our attention to protect the innocent. We do everything we can to protect the civilians, and actually lowering– delegating the authority to the lower level allows us to do this better.
Under President Trump, the US has dropped a record number of bombs on the Middle East, following through on Trump’s promise to “bomb the sh*t out of ISIS.”
More Drone Attacks?
The Commander in Chief has ordered the CIA to begin arming its drones in Syria. Two former officials claim the President told them, “If you can do it in 10 days, get it done.”
Under President Barack Obama, the CIA had scaled down the CIA’s ability to use surveillance flights in Syria in hopes of their limiting their military involvement in Syria and beyond. The former president hoped to return the CIA to mainly espionage work, per its founding mission. The Obama administration limited drone strikes to heavily vetted, high level targets.
Instead President Trump has advocated for policies to “knock the hell out of” ISIS. Reports have circulated that President Trump is considering loosening the rules placed on drone strikes under the Obama administration.
To Stay in Syria
President Trump said earlier this week he hoped to pull US troops out of Syria soon. He later dropped his insistence on an immediate withdrawal of US troops amid concerns a US evacuation could lead to a power vacuum to be filled by Russia, Iran, or an ISIS resurgence. Instead, military commanders will aim to “wrap up” the US mission in Syria in the coming months. The military aims to defeat residual ISIS militants and train local forces to prevent an ISIS resurgence in the future.
This week, the President also said the military will be heading the the US-Mexico border to defend the border.