Shifting from the drone policy of the Obama administration, President Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) new authority to conduct drone attacks against suspected militants, anonymous USA officials said.
The move is aimed at dialing back Obama's efforts to transfer drone strike authority to the Pentagon.
The CIA generally refuses to confirm or deny carrying out any drone strikes, and thus never accounts for who did or didn't get killed. Though once the center of America's covert war on terrorism, drone strikes in Pakistan have become rare: There were only 3 in 2016, down from a high of 122 in 2010, according to data from New America.
President Obama wanted the joint special operations command (JSOC) to carry out the attacks, to increase transparency and accountability.
President George W Bush authorised America's first drone strike in 2004 but the programme was rapidly scaled up by Mr Obama, provoking global condemnation and protests in countries such as Pakistan where Central Intelligence Agency attacks were blamed for killing hundreds of civilians. But "f$3 or Obama, the high standard ensured that local partner forces did not come to depend on American air support and that the US military did not inadvertently slide down a slippery slope into larger-scale combat operations or even war", WaPo observed.
The return to drone assassinations by the USA intelligence agency is part of a broader turn by the Trump administration toward jettisoning cosmetic restrictions imposed by Obama during his second term.
Included in the authority is a relaxed requirement around those who can be targeted in a drone strike, which under the Obama administration was already very broad.
"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 the Islamic State is not concerned about whether or not any of the civilians in Mosul are killed or wounded", he continued. The CIA requires a target be certified with "near certainty" while the military uses the standard of "reasonable certainty". Or the White House could choose to waive the more stringent rules in certain geographical areas by declaring them active-combat zones for certain periods of time.