Pentagon receives more freedom for counterterror raids

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The authority gives military commanders more freedom to carry out missions in order to achieve “a strategic effect” — that is, a broader military goal agreed upon by the President — as opposed to needing approval for each strike and raid on a case-by-case basis.

The expanded authority is being weighed amid a resurgence of terror groups in the three countries.

The proposed changes come as the CIA carried out a February drone strike against Abu al Khayr al-Masri, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, signaling that the intelligence agency could once again become a major player in targeted strikes.

The Obama administration had previously sought to shift responsibility for drone strikes from the intelligence community to the military. The CIA provided the intelligence and expertise for some attacks but the military carried out the strikes.

But one administration official stressed to CNN that whether the strikes were to be carried out by the intelligence community or the Pentagon, major efforts would be made to avoid civilian casualties.

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Several officials said that both changes could be seen as reflective of the Trump administration’s desire to loosen the rules and put more assets into the fight.

The military has long sought to have the White House deem operations in Libya, Somalia and Yemen in “active hostility” — a designation that confers the ability to carry out airstrikes and counterterrorism raids with fewer restrictions — as President Barack Obama had already labeled the missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The uptick in airstrikes in Yemen — some 40 have been launched in the last two weeks — is a sign of this new Pentagon authority, the defense official said.

Officials said, however, that the military will still coordinate its actions with local governments to obtain their continued buy-in.

Proponents of the Obama-era approach argued that such White House approval was necessary to avoid mission creep and escalation, while its detractors viewed it as micromanaging.

The one exception President Barack Obama granted was when enemy forces directly threatened US military personnel. In that scenario, military commanders could call in “self-defense” strikes without White House approval. This authority has been employed many times in Somalia, where US Special Operations Forces advise local troops battling the al Qaeda affiliate al Shabab.

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