Trump looking to loosen battlefield rules

Graffiti denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa, Yemen. President Trump has granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three Yemen provinces as areas with looser battlefield rules.
Graffiti denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa, Yemen. President Trump has granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three Yemen provinces as areas with looser battlefield rules.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from drone attacks, commando raids and other counter-terrorism missions outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.

Already, President Donald Trump has granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three provinces of Yemen to be an "area of active hostilities" where looser battlefield rules apply.

That opened the door to a Special Operations raid in late January, in which several civilians were killed, as well as to the largest series of US air strikes targeting Yemen-based militants, starting nearly two weeks ago, the officials said.

Mr Trump is also expected to sign off soon on a similar Pentagon proposal to designate parts of Somalia to be another such battlefield-style zone for 180 days, removing constraints on air strikes and raids targeting people suspected of being militants with the Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabab, they said.

Inside the White House, the temporary suspension of the limits for parts of Yemen and Somalia is seen as a test run while the government considers whether to more broadly rescind or relax the Obama-era rules, said the officials, who described the internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

The move to open the throttle on using military force - and accept a greater risk of civilian casualties - comes as the Trump administration is trying to significantly increase military spending and slash foreign aid and State Department budgets.

More than three dozen members of the US' national security establishment urged Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to maintain the thrust of the Obama-era principles for counter-terrorism missions.

They warned in a letter sent on Sunday to Mr Mattis that "even small numbers of unintentional civilian deaths or injuries - whether or not legally permitted - can cause significant strategic setbacks", increasing violence from militant groups or prompting partners and allies to reduce collaboration.

NYTIMES

SEE WORLD 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2017, with the headline 'Trump looking to loosen battlefield rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe