The controversial CIA drone wars (sometimes in partnership with the military’s JSOC) have taken place in Yemen since 2002 (and number between 30 and 56).
Today it was announced that unknown and non-specific ‘targets’ could be eliminated based on their ‘patterns of life’ or behaviour. This is what is known as a ‘signature’ strike. The death of a known individual is called a ‘personality’ strike, with such targets existing on a ‘kill list’.
The relaxed rules almost guarantee an escalation of the drone campaign in the country.
Administration officials stressed that U.S. airstrikes in Yemen will still be under tighter restrictions than they have been in Pakistan. CIA drones flying over Pakistan’s tribal belt are allowed to strike groups of armed militants traveling by truck toward the war in Afghanistan, for example, even when there is no indication of the presence of al-Qaeda operatives or a high-value terrorist.
In Yemen, by contrast, signature strikes will only be allowed when there is clear indication of the presence of an al-Qaeda leader or of plotting against targets in the United States or Americans overseas. In recent months, U.S. spy agencies have collected intelligence indicating plots against American diplomats or U.S. special operations troops who are working alongside Yemeni counter-terrorism units.
But much of the expertise that the CIA and JSOC will employ in Yemen is likely to draw heavily on the agency’s experience in Pakistan. There, officials said, the CIA has become so proficient at monitoring militant groups that it can tell when an al-Qaeda leader is present at a compound through chatter on signals intercepts, security precautions taken before the dignitary’s arrival, as well as the number and behavior of al-Qaeda security personnel around the perimeter of the site.