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C.I.A. Wants to Conduct Drone Strikes in Pakistan

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Topic: C.I.A. Wants to Conduct Drone Strikes in Pakistan
Posted By: AfghanistanNews
Subject: C.I.A. Wants to Conduct Drone Strikes in Pakistan
Date Posted: 16-Sep-2017 at 1:21am
The C.I.A. 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.

C.I.A. Wants to Conduct Drone Strikes in Pakistan

If approved by President Trump, it would mark the first time the C.I.A. has had such powers in Afghanistan, expanding beyond its existing authority to carry out covert strikes against Al Qaeda 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 Obama-era restraints on how the C.I.A. 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 C.I.A. strikes in such countries as Libya, Somalia and Yemen, where the United States is fighting the Islamic State, Al Qaeda 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 C.I.A., 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 C.I.A.’s director, Mike Pompeo, has made a forceful case to Mr. 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 Mr. Trump favors granting the C.I.A. greater authorities 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,” Mr. Pompeo said this week on Fox News.

He said that the agency was hunting “every day” for Al Qaeda’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,” Mr. Pompeo said.

From the outset of his tenure at the C.I.A., Mr. Pompeo, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, has made clear that he favors pushing the agency to take on a more direct role in fighting militants. Afghanistan, the most active war zone in which the United States is fighting, makes sense as the place to start: In the past three years, the number of military drone strikes there has climbed, from 304 in 2015, to 376 last year, to 362 through the first eight months of this year.

The C.I.A., in comparison, has had little to do across the border in Pakistan, where there were three drone strikes last year and have been four so far this year, according to the Long War Journal published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“This is bureaucratic politics 101,” said Christine Wormuth, a former top Pentagon official. “The C.I.A. has very significant capabilities, and it wants to go use them.”

Spokesmen for the C.I.A. and the Defense Department declined to comment on the pending proposal, which involves delicate internal deliberations.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has not resisted the C.I.A. proposal, administration officials said, but other Pentagon officials question the expansion of C.I.A. authorities in Afghanistan or elsewhere, asking what the agency can do that the military cannot. Some Pentagon officials also fear that American troops on the ground in Afghanistan could end up bearing the burden of any C.I.A. strikes that accidentally kill civilians, because the agency will not publicly acknowledge those attacks. The military has also had to confront its own deadly mistakes in Afghanistan.

One senior Defense Department official said that the United States would gain little from having the C.I.A. carry out drone strikes alongside the military, and that it raised the question of whether it was an appropriate use of covert action.

A former senior administration official familiar with Mr. Pompeo’s position said that he views a division of labor with the Defense Department as an abrogation of the C.I.A.’s authorities.

Mr. Pompeo’s argument seems to be carrying the day with Mr. Trump, who has struck a bellicose tone in seeking to confront extremist groups in Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/us/politics/cia-drone-strike-authority-afghanistan.html" rel="nofollow - https://www.nytimes.com



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