AK Rockefeller / CC BY-SA 2.0

The U.S. military has taken greater charge of drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, effectively reducing congressional scrutiny and leaving officials, lawmakers and activists fearful of increased civilian casualties.

The Associated Press reports:

For the last decade, the CIA ran the American effort to find and kill al-Qaida members with drones, mostly in Pakistan and Yemen, outside of declared war zones. But the frequency of those strikes has plummeted to about one a month. The main counterterrorism focus now is the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where military special operations forces are flying drones that hunt and kill a senior militant every two days.

The shift reflects both legal and philosophical considerations. When he announced a framework for targeted killing two years ago, President Barack Obama argued that the military, not a secret intelligence agency, should be the primary instrument of lethal force against terrorists.

But one byproduct of the change, American officials say, is that congressional staffers no longer examine the details of each individual drone strike.

Some CIA officials, lawmakers, and outside activists worry that the new arrangement creates a greater risk of mistakes, given that drone strikes regularly target key militants who don’t wear uniforms and embed themselves in civilian populations. Congress, they say, should independently review each drone strike to monitor targeting decisions and compliance with the rules of engagement.

“Congress ought to be exercising equally rigorous oversight irrespective of which agency or department uses lethal force,” said Raha Wala, senior counsel at Human Rights First. “We are talking about some of the most legally, politically and diplomatically fraught counterterrorism operations, whether they occur in or out of a war zone.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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