While the US drone program has its origins in the Bush and Obama Administrations, the first year of Trump’s presidency has seen an ugly escalation of lethal strikes in countries the President describes in vulgar terms.
Under Trump, this program has hugely expanded in both scale and callousness: drone strikes have increased, Obama-era safeguards have been ripped up, and an unparalleled number of victims have been killed. The US drone war has now become a program of industrial-scale assassinations.
Below we bring you five of the key developments in Trump’s drone war from 2017:
1. Trump launched two devastating operations in Yemen
In January 2017 President Trump launched his first ground raid in Yemen. The raid was approved by Trump casually over dinner – a midnight raid and drone strike on the village of al-Ghayil in the Yakla area of Yemen. Concerns about the quality of the intelligence and legality of the operation would later prove to be warnings he should have heeded, but President Trump gave the order anyway.
The raid was described by President Trump as a “win”, but our investigations have revealed that it was anything but. We discovered that 23 innocent people, including an 8-year-old girl and a new born baby, were killed in this needless operation.
In May 2017, a second raid in Yemen was carried out by US forces. Our investigation revealed that five civilians were killed during this operation, and six were seriously injured. One of those killed was Nasser al-Adhal, who was around 70 years old and partially blind. So far, the Trump Administration has yet to acknowledge a single civilian casualty.
2. Drone strikes have escalated under Trump
Under President Trump US drone strikes have increased in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen – all countries against which the US is not officially at war.
Since January 2017, there have been at least 124 drone strikes in Yemen, resulting in at least 163 deaths. This is a 287% increase in strikes, as compared with 2016. In 2017 in Somalia there were 33 drone strikes and at least 196 were reported killed. This is more than all the strikes the US took in Somalia over the previous fifteen years.
3. Unprecedented loss of life
The first year of the Trump administration has resulted in more loss of life from drone strikes than all eight years of Obama’s presidency.
4. Trump has further expanded his misguided drone war
Under Trump, America’s illegal drone war has expanded further across the globe. In October it was reported that his Administration was seeking to use armed drones in Niger – another country where the US is not engaged in an armed conflict. This followed widespread reports of a secret US counter-terror operation in Niger, which cost the lives of US Special Forces personnel. Most senators – including serving members of the Senate Armed Services Committee – had not previously been briefed on the current US military presence in Niger.
5. Trump has loosened the limits on drone strikes and raids
Trump has not simply increased and widened drone strikes – he has also worked to systematically weaken safeguards. Before leaving office, President Obama restricted and reduced the CIA’s role in the drone program, limiting their involvement in Yemen and prohibiting any CIA drones from flying over Syria. Since coming to power, President Trump has worked to roll back these limitations.
In March, Trump reauthorized the CIA to conduct drone strikes, and in the same month declared areas of Yemen and Somalia “areas of active hostilities”, allowing safeguards to be bypassed. In September, the Trump administration began to further dismantle Obama-era restrictions by expanding the list of who could be targeted in strikes. Now, even individuals not considered to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” can be targeted for death without trial.