CIA asks to expand drone-strike power
WASHINGTON — The CIA is pushing for expanded powers to carry out covert drone strikes in Afghanistan and other active…
WASHINGTON — The CIA is pushing for expanded powers to carry out covert drone strikes in Afghanistan and other active war zones, a proposal that the White House appears to favor despite the misgivings of some at the Pentagon, according to current and former intelligence and military officials.
If approved by President Donald Trump, it would mark the first time the CIA has had such powers in Afghanistan, expanding beyond its existing authority to carry out covert strikes against al-Qaida and other terrorist targets across the border in Pakistan.
The changes are being weighed as part of a broader push inside the Trump White House to loosen restraints implemented under President Barack Obama on how the CIA and the military fight Islamist militants around the world. The Obama administration imposed the restrictions in part to limit civilian casualties, and the proposed shift has raised concerns among critics that the Trump administration would open the way for broader — and riskier — CIA strikes in such countries as Libya, Somalia and Yemen, where the United States is fighting the Islamic State, al-Qaida or both.
Until now, the Pentagon has had the lead role for conducting airstrikes — with drones or other aircraft — against militants in Afghanistan and other conflict zones, such as Somalia and Libya and, to some extent, Yemen. The military publicly acknowledges its strikes, unlike the CIA, which for roughly a decade has carried out its own campaign of covert drone strikes in Pakistan that were not acknowledged by either country, a condition that Pakistan’s government has long insisted on.
But the CIA’s director, Mike Pompeo, has made a forceful case to Trump in recent weeks that the Obama-era arrangement needlessly limited the United States’ ability to conduct counterterrorism operations, according to the current and former officials, who would not be named discussing internal debates about sensitive information. He has publicly suggested that Trump favors granting the CIA greater authority to go after militants, though he has been vague about specifics, nearly all of which are classified.
“When we’ve asked for more authorities, we’ve been given it. When we ask for more resources, we get it,” Pompeo said this week on Fox News.
He said the agency was hunting “every day” for al-Qaida’s leaders, most of whom are believed to be sheltering in the remote mountains that straddle the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“If I were them, I’d count my days,” Pompeo said.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has not resisted the CIA proposal, administration officials said, but other Pentagon officials question the expansion of CIA authorities in Afghanistan or elsewhere, asking what the agency can do that the military cannot. Some Pentagon officials also fear that U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan could end up bearing the burden of any CIA strikes that accidentally kill civilians, because the agency will not publicly acknowledge those attacks.
One senior Defense Department official said the United States would gain little from having the CIA carry out drone strikes alongside the militaryand that it raised the question of whether it was an appropriate use of covert action.
A former senior administration official familiar with Pompeo’s position said he views a division of labor with the Defense Department as an abrogation of the CIA’s authorities.
Pompeo’s argument seems to be carrying the day with Trump, who has struck a bellicose tone in seeking to confront extremist groups in Afghanistan, including al-Qaida, the Islamic State and the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban.
In Trump’s speech last month outlining his policy for South Asia, including Afghanistan, the president promised that he would loosen restrictions on U.S. soldiers to enable them to hunt down terrorists, whom he labeled “thugs and criminals and predators, and — that’s right — losers.”
“The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms,” the president said. “Retribution will be fast and powerful.”
Pompeo may have a potentially important ally: Gen. John Nicholson Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, who reportedly favors any approach to train more firepower on the array of foes of Afghan security forces and the 11,000 or so U.S. troops advising and assisting them.
Trump has already authorized Mattis to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Some 4,000 reinforcements will allow U.S. officers to more closely advise Afghan brigades, train more Afghan Special Operations forces and call in American firepower.
Among the chief targets for the CIA in Afghanistan would be the Haqqani network, whose leader is now the No. 2 in the Taliban and runs its military operations. The Haqqanis have been responsible for many of the deadliest attacks on Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, in the war and are known for running a virtual factory in Pakistan that has steadily supplied suicide bombers since 2005.
Despite their objections, Defense Department officials say they are now somewhat resigned to the outcome and are working out arrangements with the CIA to ensure that U.S. forces, including special operations advisers, are not accidentally targeted, officials said.
A Section on 09/16/2017
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette CIA asks to expand drone-strike power