The Slatest

Trump Inherited Obama’s Drone War and Made It Bigger

A predator drone on a runway at night.
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle awaits a mission at an air base in the Persian Gulf region on Jan. 7, 2016. John Moore/Getty Images

The Trump administration has ramped up the drone war started by the Obama administration, according to new analysis and reporting by the Daily Beast.

The quicker pace of airborne, remote-controlled assaults was driven most immediately by strikes in Yemen, where the U.S. launched 130 drone attacks in 2017, more than a threefold increase, according to the Daily Beast. A large portion of those strikes came in just two months of the year, compared with only 36 strikes in 2018 so far.

In total, the Trump administration has been responsible for 238 drone strikes in the three centers of the drone war: Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, the Daily Beast reported, citing data from the U.S. military and the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The military under Trump has been given the green light to engage in more strikes of all kinds against a wider scope of targets, including attacks using drones—changes that have drawn ire from human rights groups who say they will lead and have already led to more civilian casualties. One major change is that the certainty commanders need to authorize an attack has been relaxed from “near certainty” to “reasonable certainty” that a suspected terrorist is present at the targeted site.

The drone strikes—which sometimes targeted groups only tangentially related to the branch of al-Qaida that organized the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks—were some of the most controversial military and intelligence decisions of the Obama era. While the administration largely prided itself on tamping down military entanglement overseas (with some notable exceptions), it also turned overhead drone flights and strikes into a fact of life in some of the most wartorn and unstable countries in the world.

While the Trump administration is torn about the need to ramp up or tamp down on military engagements, the president himself has sometimes been a vocal advocate for doing less but at the same time has been tempted by the seemingly low-risk (to the U.S.) nature of drone strikes. Trump has also been an indulgent supporter of the military’s wish for new hardware and equipment, which extends to armaments for drones.

“Under the Trump administration, the Air Force is spending more on the Hellfire missiles used by armed drones,” the Daily beast reported. “Even as the wars in Iraq and Syria wind down, the Trump administration has sought to purchase more drone missiles. Air Force budget documents show a 63 percent increase in Hellfire purchases in Trump’s 2017 budget and another 20 percent increase in the most recent budget request.”