Drones over Somalia: How Biden’s new rules change the game?

Washington (Caasimada Online) – In an unparalleled disclosure, the Biden administration has unveiled its comprehensive guidelines on drone operations in Somalia an other countries.

The rules, inked in October, show a drastic shift from those relaxed under President Trump’s tenure, reinstating stringent procedures surrounding drone strikes and commando operations.

Under these guidelines, U.S. military and C.I.A. drone operators require presidential approval before targeting suspected militants outside conventional war zones.

This prerequisite comes with a firm assertion of “near certainty” that civilians won’t be collateral damage in these strikes.

Notably, the rules reserve their application for scenarios where capturing the target alive via a commando raid is deemed implausible. If an American citizen is targeted, a more extensive review is triggered.

A calibrated counterterrorism strategy

The declassified 18-page document outlining the administration’s international counterterrorism strategy paints a tempered picture of terrorist threats.

Unlike the sometimes overwrought assessments post the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, this strategy stems from a comprehensive policy review by the Biden administration.

The strategy encapsulates a balanced approach to international terrorism threats.

With the evolution of these threats, the document underscores addressing direct terrorist threats to the U.S. and its installations overseas while acknowledging the need to prioritize risks amid other national security threats and resource constraints.

As per the strategy, the U.S. is to avoid large-scale, U.S.-led nation-building efforts under the guise of counterterrorism, opting instead for “tailored approaches” such as assisting local authorities to bolster security through local forces.

Geographic constraints and Exceptions

Regarding geography, the rules apply globally, exempting only Iraq and Syria. These countries, where the remnants of the Islamic State linger, are currently regarded as areas of active hostilities, allowing military operators greater leeway in ordering airstrikes.

Therefore, the regulations govern drone operations in other countries where the U.S. has conducted recent strikes, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and certain tribal regions of Pakistan.

However, exceptions to these rules exist. Drone strikes in defense of American forces or partner forces trained and equipped by the U.S. are exempt from the special procedures.

They are permitted when “foreign partners and allies are under attack or are threatened with an imminent attack.”

Yale Law School professor Oona Hathaway regards the new strategy’s recognition of other competing national security priorities as significant.

“Its call for ‘realistic and achievable goals’ is a rare U.S. government acknowledgment that eliminating all possible terrorism risk is impossible,” she said.

Former senior counterterrorism aide in the Obama administration, Luke Hartig, commended the document, stating, “This is sound for where we are now in the struggle against terrorism.”

The evolution of counterterrorism

As a new style of warfare in the 21st century, counterterrorism drone strikes in remote and poorly governed regions pose unique legal and policy challenges. The past four presidencies have wrestled with these dilemmas.

These regions, neither battlefield zones where American ground forces are fighting nor normal countries where police can arrest terrorists, have seen an uptick in drone strikes.

However, increased botched strikes and civilian casualties have led to human rights controversies and backlash against the U.S.

The threat of global terrorism has evolved significantly, particularly with the rise and fall of the Islamic State.

The decline of the Islamic State might mean a return to a more geographically dispersed terrorist threat. The rules cover capture operations, introducing more regulations, such as reporting to the International Committee of the Red Cross upon detaining someone and forbidding the arrival of new detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

These adjustments in U.S. drone policy reflect an adaptive, more calculated approach towards counterterrorism designed to meet the changing landscape of global terrorism. The full extent of their efficacy, however, remains to be seen.