Sunday, March 9, 2014
The Washington Post
(Continued from page 1)
He outlined a three-fold danger from weakened al-Qaida affiliates, threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad and homegrown extremists.
"This is the future of terrorism," Obama said. "As we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11."
Obama said he would not sign any proposed expansion of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which gives the president the power to use military force against al-Qaida. Some lawmakers have argued that the authorization should be revised because it is now used to justify targeted killings against al-Qaeia "associates" in Yemen and Somalia, far removed from the Sept. 11 attacks. Obama said he would work to refine and ulitmately repeal the mandate.
"America is at a crossroads," he said. "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us."
Senior administration officials said some of the specifics of the changes Obama outlined are contained in a classified Presidential Policy Guidance directive on counterterrorism operations that he signed this week.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters before the speech, said that requiring evidence of "a continuing and imminent threat to the United States" to justify a drone strike was more restrictive language than in the past.
The officials said the "near certainty" that civilians would not be hit tightens a previous standard in which civilians have been killed unintentionally. Obama said there was "wide gap" between the estimated thousands of civilian casualties cited by non-governmental organizations and U.S. tallies, but he gave no numbers.
The officials said the classified directive also establishes a "preference" for the military to take the lead in drone operations, which are now conducted by both the armed forces and the CIA. That language suggests a change in course for the CIA, which has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, killing an estimated 3,000 militants and civilians.
But the guidance appeared to stop well short of ending the CIA's drone program, leaving enough room for the agency to continue using a controversial targeting practice known as "signature strikes" in Pakistan.
In his speech, Obama put the conflict in the "Afghan war theater" in a separate category from the fight against al-Qaida "associates" elsewhere. He said the United States would "continue to take strikes against high value al-Qaida targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces" until they are withdrawn from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
The Obama administration, like that of President George W. Bush, has long considered Pakistan's tribal areas part of the war theater. The carve-out presumably enables the CIA to continue hitting groups in Pakistan that are not part of al-Qaida but regularly attack U.S. forces across the Afghanitan border.
The most immediate impact of the revised drone policy might be in Yemen, a country outside the designated war zone, where the CIA and U.S. military simultaneously have operated armed drones and carried out dozens of strikes over the past two years.
If Obama's "preference" for the Pentagon to take the lead in such operations is enforced, the CIA could be required to shutter a drone base it built in the desert of southern Saudi Arabia in 2011.
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