Trump Expands CIA Military Presence Through Drone Warfare

drone stike
AP/ Kirsty Wigglesworth

Media outlets are reporting that President Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) broader power to use drones to attack radical Islamic terrorists on the battlefield.

The Wall Street Journal cited U.S. officials as its source for the report on the CIA stepping up its role in U.S. drone warfare.

“The move would be a change from the policy of former President Barack Obama’s administration of limiting the CIA’s paramilitary role,” the article posted by the Wall Street Journal and picked up by other media outlets said.

“The United States was the first to use unmanned aircraft fitted with missiles to kill militant suspects in the years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington,” the report said. “Strikes by missile-armed Predator and Reaper drones against oversea targets began under former President George W. Bush and were expanded by Obama.”

The report said some oppose the use of drones because the attacks can be used by jihadist groups to recruit people to their cause. And in July the U.S. government accepted responsibility for inadvertently killing up to 116 civilians in drone strikes in countries where America is not at war.

A 2012 article in The Nation revealed that the CIA’s relationship with drone warfare dates back almost two decades, however.

“The CIA had been flying unarmed drones over Afghanistan since 2000,” The Nation article read. It went on to say:

It began to fly armed drones after the September 11 attacks. Some were used during the air war against the Taliban in late 2001. But by February 2002 the CIA hadn’t yet used a drone for a strike outside military support. The February 2002 attack was a pure CIA kill operation, undertaken separately from any ongoing military operation.

The drone operators were reported to have come across three people at a former mujahedeen base called Zhawar Kili—later, officials would never claim they were armed—including a “tall man” to whom the other men were ‘acting with reverence.’ (On one previous occasion, a year before the September 11 attacks, CIA observers thought they’d seen bin Laden: a tall man with long robes near Tarnak Farm, bin Laden’s erstwhile home near Kandahar.

This sighting by an unarmed drone was what had led to the first arguments among the White House and CIA about arming drones with missiles, a debate that simmered until it was snuffed out by the September 11 attacks.

The U.S. is not alone in using the drone on the battlefield, including the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

In January, the Pentagon confirmed that the Islamic State has used makeshift “drones” against coalition forces in Mosul, affixing “grenade-like” explosives to commercial-quality aerial drones and using them to attack enemies from afar.

“As we’ve made our way into Mosul now, what we’ve seen is that they use the smaller drones… they’re up for, you know, 45 minutes, an hour so, and even that evolution has transitioned in the beginning of the Mosul campaign from — from just reconnaissance to they are actually putting munitions in them,” Col. Brett Sylvia, head of the U.S. Task Force Strike in Mosul, told reporters.

“I can tell you it has resulted in the damage to some equipment and damage of some structures as well as to some civilian casualties because,” he noted, the Islamic State is “not concerned about whether or not any of the civilians in Mosul are killed or wounded.”

“I am aware that ISIL has used commercial-off-the-shelf UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] to drop small explosive weapons,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told the Washington Times.

But, he said: “This capability is dangerous and has propaganda value, but it will not change the fact that the enemy is being defeated in both Iraq and Syria.”