The Obama administration is close to completing a counterterrorism manual aiming to clearly establish rules for targeted drone strikes, The Washington Post reported last Saturday night. In theory, the idea of establishing rules in an otherwise unregulated campaign seems great. However, the CIA manual glaringly exempts one hot point: drone strikes in Pakistan.
The document, which is expected to make its way to President Obama in the next few weeks, will allow the CIA to continue striking its al-Qaeda and Taliban targets for at least one more year before more rules are established for the agency.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s reports, between 2,629 and 3,461 have been killed via drone strikes. Of these, between 475 and 891 were reportedly civilians, and 176 of them children. Between 1,267 and 1,431 have been injured.
Moreover, a report released by Stanford and NYU late last year showed that the number of “high-level” targets killed as a result of the drone campaign is pathetically low – estimated to be only 2%.
An NYU graduate student even began tweeting times, dates, and casualty counts for every reported drone strike from 2002-2012 from his account DroneStream, painfully pointing out the number of civilian deaths in Pakistan.
According to The Washington Post, a senior U.S official said that although there are still a few minor issues with the playbook, it “will be done shortly.”
The Washington Post also points out among the efforts in the new playbook, the process of adding names to the kill lists is one of them. The sequence of approvals needed when drone strikes are carried out by the CIA or the U.S. military outside of war zones are also established in the document.
Last year, in the midst of disagreements among the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon regarding the official criteria for many operations including the strikes, the efforts to construct the playbook were nearly abandoned. According to The Washington Post, exempting the CIA for its Pakistan operation was a necessary compromise needed to facilitate the progress on the rest of the playbook.
The contention between the agencies was mostly based on the issue of “signature strikes” – the CIA’s practice of launching strikes based simply on suspicious behavior rather than clear intelligence about the targets.
The decision to grant the CIA the exemption was also in part due to the fact that the U.S plans to pull most of its troops out of Afghanistan over the next two years, effectively limiting America's ability to weaken al-Qaeda and the Taliban as the drones are flown out of Afghanistan bases.
Critics of the manual see the document as institutionalizing the U.S.’ targeted killing program, a practice likely to be seen as an anathema prior to the 9/11 attacks.
The playbook is “a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of the CIA’s paramilitary killing program” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project according to The Washington Post.
One former official has said that the exception will be in effect for “less than two years but more than one,” meaning that Pakistani civilians have yet another year of drones raining down upon them, and yet another year of facing a disparaging number of civilian deaths.