Trump Lifts Requirement to Report Civilian Victims of Drone Strikes

Indri Schaelicke | @ISchaelicke

President Trump issued an executive order Wednesday that revoked a requirement for intelligence and military officials to declare certain unclassified information about foreign drone strikes.

Former President Barack Obama first established this policy via executive order. The order mandated that intelligence officials provide an “unclassified summary of the number of strikes” as well as “assessments of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from those strikes” each year.

The Secretary of Defense will continue to provide a similar report, despite Wednesday’s executive order. The National Defense Authorization Act first mandated this report. It since has been under congressional oversight. The report includes only information regarding U.S. military operations in places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya.

“The United States Government is fully committed to complying with its obligations under the law of armed conflict, minimizing, to the greatest extent possible, civilian causalities, and acknowledging responsibility when they unfortunately occur during military operations,” a National Security Council spokesperson told CNN.

The Trump Administration also argues that it issued the order in an effort to cut down on “superfluous reporting requirements” for its drone strikes.

The spokesperson said, “This action eliminates superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission…”

Arguments For and Against the Drone Strikes Requirement

The initial Obama order was a win for anti-war activists and opponents of foreign military action. These groups use the data to make the case that drone strikes kill a significant number of civilians and non-combatants.

These same groups view Trump’s decision as a move to avoid disclosing civilian deaths. This would weaken the case against foreign drone strikes.

Those in favor of Trump’s decision, on the other hand, cite national security concerns. They believe that the accessibility of this information hampers the military’s ability to conduct drone strikes successfully.

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