Since President Donald Trump assumed office, the pace of U.S. drone strikes on suspected militant targets has increased, particularly in war-torn Yemen.
The higher volume in drone strikes coincides with purported plans for the president to delegate more authority to Secretary of Defense James Mattis to launch airstrikes and special operations raids.
The U.S. had conducted a series of drone strikes in Yemen from Jan. 20 through Jan. 22, just as Trump was sworn in as the new commander-in-chief. The strikes had not been authorized by Trump himself, but by four-star commander Gen. Joseph Votel of U.S. Central Command, CNN reports.
U.S. officials have asserted that more military action is necessary in Yemen to root out Al Qaeda militants who have grown out of the country's civil war.
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"[Al Qaeda] is using the unrest in Yemen to provide a haven from which to plan future attacks against the US and its interests," said U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis. "We remain committed to defeating [al Qaeda in Yemen] and denying it a safe haven."
Former President Barack Obama had authorized 542 drone strikes during his eight years in office. An estimate by fellow Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the number of drone strikes under the Trump administration are on pace to far exceed that number.
"During President Obama's two terms in office, he approved 542 such targeted strikes in 2,920 days -- one every 5.4 days," Zenko wrote on the Council of Foreign Relations' website. "From his inauguration through [Mar. 6], President Trump has approved at least 36 drone strikes or raids in 45 days -- one every 1.25 days."
The majority of these strikes have occurred in Yemen.
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On Mar. 1, several anonymous U.S. officials asserted that Trump was considering amending the Presidential Policies Directives, which had given Obama the final say on authorizing drone strikes and special operation raids in countries the U.S. is not officially engaged with militarily, to delegate more of that authority to Mattis, The Daily Beast reports.
Foreign policy and defense analyst James J. Carafano of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation believes Obama had involved himself too directly with military decisions, but that delegating authority for strikes to the Pentagon would not mean Trump would be able to pass the buck if something goes awry.
"You can delegate authority but not responsibility," Carafano told the Los Angeles Times. "In a sense, you put your personal reputation at risk. So if you delegate authority and then something goes wrong, because you hold the responsibility, the fault comes back on you."