Biden’s New Drone Policy and US Engagement in Somalia – MIR

The policy setting

US-sanctioned drone strikes have a history of fatal inaccuracy, demonstrated by a multitude of well-documented civilian casualties. In April 2022, the New York Times published Civilian Casualty Files, a comprehensive review of documents revealing a pattern of “misinformation, faulty targeting, years of civilian deaths – and little accountability.” The Trump and Obama administrations embraced technological advances of drone warfare, seeing it as a means of maintain military counter-terrorism operations in places like Afghanistan while reducing the number of boots on the ground. During their first years in office, Obama and Trump allowed 186 and 238 strikes, respectively. Under current President Joe Biden, the use of targeted drone strikes as a core tool in US counterterrorism operations has relatively diminished. Only 67 strikes were allowed outside areas of active hostilities in Biden’s first year.

This shift in policy is not a passive effect of evolving US engagements in global conflicts, such as the country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead, Biden has taken steps to address flaws in the current drone strike policy. Biden’s new policy has been in development since his inauguration, when he quietly imposed a set of temporary limits on the military and the CIA, forcing them to obtain White House approval before launching strikes outside conventional battlefields – except in cases of self-defense. On October 7, Biden institutionalized his approach in a new classified policy regulating the use of drone strikes in US counterterrorism operations. Against the backdrop of a simultaneous re-engagement between the US military and the Somali government in the fight against al-Shabaab, a non-state armed group operating primarily in East Africa, the strength and longevity of these newly imposed limits remain. uncertain.

Laws and their limits

In the first twenty months of its presidency, the Biden administration has embarked on a full review of US counterterrorism policy, focusing specifically on reducing civilian casualties. Full details of this review and New policy signed this month remain classified. The new limits require presidential endorsement, allegedly prioritizing the capture of suspicious targets rather than killing them, and requiring a standard of “near certainty” for target identification and drone strike clearance.

Biden’s ‘virtual certainty’ standard mirrors language used by the Obama administration since 2011 to 2013 during the implementation of drone warfare regulations that were part of the former president own efforts to mitigate civilian casualties. However, in 2017, Trump reverted official US policy to Bush-era regulations that relied on a lower standard of “reasonable certainty.” While the difference between “almost” and “reasonable” may seem like a small matter of semantics, “near certainty” is notably a upper threshold than required by the International Law of Armed Conflict (ILAC).

In light of this, some reviews said Biden was overstepping his role by demanding that military commanders meet higher standards than the existing DCA. Yet the DCA has a history of vulnerability to political manipulation and rhetoric and is often considered poorly equipped meet the challenges of modern conflicts that do not fit within the conventional frameworks of warfare. Lawyers Michael J. Adams and Ryan Goodman Remark that the meaning of “reasonable certainty”, while “informed by international law”, is ultimately informed by the conditions of each specific armed conflict. In cases like Somalia, where an armed conflict is taking place outside “declared theatersof military operations, existing international law becomes difficult to apply.

President Biden meets with Secretary Austin, military leadership” by Lisa Fernando is in the Public domain.

Facts from the field

Reply to a request of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Biden announcement that the United States would redeploy approximately 500 ground troops to Somalia in May 2022 to bolster the Somali government in its efforts to counter al-Shabaab. Cover of the announcement framed Biden’s policy as a reversal of Trump’s decision to withdraw most troops from Somalia. However, although the number of US troops on the ground in the country has fluctuated under different administrations, drone strikes have remained a unbreakable part of the American commitment in Somalia since 2007.

In February 2022, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) spear a strike that killed three al-Shabaab members, reporting no civilian deaths. In March 2022, the Somali government announcement that a joint strike with US forces had killed more than 200 al-Shabaab militants. Again in June 2022, an American strike would have killed two more al-Shabaab fighters, with AFRICOM again reporting that its initial assessments showed no evidence of civilian casualties. AFRICOM launched the three attacks without White House approval on the grounds of collective self-defense in response to al-Shabaab attacks on US-allied Somali forces. However, it is important to note that the branch has a history of covert operations and shallow information gathering capabilities that have limited both its accuracy and transparency. More recently, on Saturday October 1, 2022, a american air strike killed a militant leader of al-Shabaab. Although AFRICOM itself did not name the individual killed in his strike, most sources concluded that the target was Abdullahi Nadir, one of the group’s co-founders.

Unlike previous operations, AFRICOM did not launch the October strike in self-defense. Instead, it was a targeted assassination of a specific individual, resembling other US operations, such as the recent strike that killed the leader of al-Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul last summer. Under Biden’s new policy, offensive strikes in this manner that occur outside of “areas of active hostilitiesrequire White House approval and must meet the latest policy standards. Currently, the only officially designated areas of active hostilities are Iraq and Syria. Trump has previously declared Somalia an active war zone, so the distinction may be ambiguous. In light of recent attacks, including one car bomb attack who killed more than 100 people in Mogadishu on October 30, current Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud asked Biden to do the same. If Biden responds to this request, AFRICOM would have much more agency to determine targets and launch strikes at its discretion.

The 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron supports CJTF-HOA” by Staff Sgt. Russian scalp is in the Public domain.

And now?

Biden’s new drone strike policy could lead to reduced civilian casualties and we could see an overall decrease in US drone strikes. However, with Somalia the current epicenter of US counterterrorism efforts, there are a number of reasons to remain skeptical about how Biden’s new policy will play out. Already, the alleged loophole of “collective self defenseleaves much to AFRICOM’s discretion, including whether or not the branch seeks presidential approval to launch strikes or even whether it will abide by new guidelines in the process of identifying targets. In addition to that, a lot of debate remains on the legality of drone strikes outside areas of active hostilities in the first place. As Mary Ellen O’Connellprofessor of law at Notre-Dame University, States, “saying that the United States will be more precise in its attacks does not make the attacks legal”. Furthermore, US involvement in Somalia has not had much apparent success in reducing al-Shabaab’s power. In fact, al-Shabaab’s most recent attack was the deadliest in five yearsand thought high level of organization that challenge the assumption that past drone strikes were effectively fragment the group. If Biden is serious about departing from the policies of his predecessors and downplaying US involvement in the “eternal wars” of the post-9/11 era, he must go further than imposing new guidelines on tactics like drone strikes and critically assess both their legality and utility above all else.

The selected image Predator, silent stalker” by Airman 1st Class Tony Ritter is in the Public domain.

Edited by Sara Parker

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