President Joe Biden on Friday formally issued new guidance curtailing the use of armed drones outside of war zones as part of a new counterterrorism strategy that places a greater priority on protecting civilian lives.
The new policies require presidential approval before a suspected terrorist is added to the U.S. government’s target list for potential lethal action, including drone strikes and special operations raids, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified memoranda.
The new guidance returns U.S. policies to where they were at the end of the Obama administration, and it reverses former President Donald Trump’s more permissive rules that allowed lower-level officials more leeway when launching deadly strikes.
Biden had issued temporary restrictions on the U.S. military and intelligence community requiring presidential sign-off for lethal actions outside of war zones when he took office. The new policies and strategy, which resulted from a review that began shortly after Inauguration Day last year, formalize the directive. The strategy would require a subsequent president looking to reverse the new action to rescind Biden’s directive.
“President Biden’s formal counterterrorism guidance directs his administration to be discerning and agile in protecting Americans against evolving global terrorist challenges,” said White House Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall in a statement.
The president’s guidance on use of lethal action and capture operations outside areas of active hostilities “requires that U.S. counterterrorism operations meet the highest standards of precision and rigor, including for identifying appropriate targets and minimizing civilian casualties,” she said.
The guidance comes a day after U.S. forces killed three senior Islamic State leaders in two separate military operations in Syria on Thursday, including a rare ground raid in a portion of the northeast that is controlled by the Syrian regime, U.S. officials said. Under Biden’s guidelines, though, Syria is considered a conflict zone where specific presidential approval isn’t necessarily required.
Strikes in Afghanistan, where the U.S. in August killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri at Biden’s direction, would require presidential approval.
The policy change was first reported by The New York Times.