In 2013, the Obama administration authorized drone strikes “beyond the theater of war” and is the reason why there was an increase in drone strikes outside of war zones during this time.
I’m just going to quote important passages instead of trying to summarize since I don’t want to get any of this wrong.
The US government is carrying out drone strikes beyond recognised war zones and incorrectly governing the use of force with the laws of war. This provides less stringent targeting rules, which are already interpreted loosely by the US administration. In the fast-paced world of counter-terrorism, the application of the law should not be misused. Historical principles of distinction; necessity and proportionality; and laws and international conventions, should not be blurred when combating terrorism.
Clearly, Trump’s America is applying new, looser rules of engagement whilst tolerating a higher civilian casualty count.
Trump has given the CIA authority to conduct its own targeted drone strikes, effectively reinstalling a paramilitary role in assassinating people in complete secrecy, a notion that the Obama administration eventually restricted. This puts forth greater lack of accountability and transparency for post-strike investigations and paves the way for extrajudicial killings.
The question we should be asking is, why now? The US administration has always claimed that Yemen and Somalia are battlefronts, where the law of war is applicable to legitimise use of force against associated forces of Al-Qaeda in self-defence. Is there now an emerging understanding within the Trump White House that Yemen and Somalia are not war zones and policies thus need to be tweaked? Trump’s first Yemen raid in late January may have come off the backdrop of the temporary battlefield concept, which claimed the lives of up to 30 civilians, including 8 year-old Nawal Al-Awlaki, the daughter of the Yemeni-American Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was also killed by a drone strike in September 2011. These policy shifts as seen in Yemen are a precursor to what is to come from the Trump administration.
US officials told the New York Times on condition of anonymity that parts of Somalia are under consideration for inclusion as temporary battlefields, permitting the use of force for up to 180 days. These considerations on Yemen and Somalia are nothing short of a test-run for the US targeted killing policy, to determine whether to adopt or enhance Obama’s drone policy. The current Trump practice on temporary battlefield policy will undermine the War Powers Resolution 1973 which only allows US presidents as commander-in-chief to launch military force for 60 days without Congressional approval. This poses several issues for the authorisations which justify military engagement, potential prisoners of war and detention matters.