Recent US military strikes on enemy targets in the Pakistan-Afghan border region are driven by the dictates of what's going on in the fight against militants, a top US military official has said.

Pentagon’s Joint Staff Director Lt Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie was commenting on media reports that since September, there has been an unprecedented increase in US military strikes in the Pak-Afghan region. At least 70 strikes – both drone and ground – were conducted in Afghanistan in the last three weeks and more than 30 people were killed in a series of drone strikes along the Pak-Afghan border in the last two days.

US officials do not comment on drone strikes but responding to a question on recent US military activities in Afghanistan, Gen McKenzie told a Pentagon news briefing this week that those strikes were “dictated by the requirements of the battle”.

“I can assure you that any strike that occurs is in full compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict, and is actually conducted with a pretty strenuous eye toward minimising civilian casualties,” he added.

A recent New York Times report claimed that the Trump administration — which launched a new South Asia strategy in August — is now revising the US policy for drones as well.

In subsequent reports, other media outlets stated that the Trump administration plans to do away with two major restrictions on drone strikes placed by the former Obama administration:

  1. Only high-level militants, who pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans can be targeted.

  2. Drone attacks and raids must undergo high-level vetting before they are executed.

The new policy, which does not have to be announced publicly, will authorise the US military and the CIA – the two agencies that conduct the drone strikes – to go for low-level targets as well. And they will not have to wait for high-level clearance before attacking a target.

But Trump administration officials, who spoke to various media outlets on the proposed policy, said the administration will retain one condition from the Obama era: a requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be killed.

Another media report claimed that the CIA has asked the Trump administration to expand its powers to carry out covert drone strikes in Afghanistan and other active war zones. So far, the CIA can only carry out covert strikes against Al Qaeda and other terrorist targets in Pakistan’s tribal zone. Drones in Afghanistan are launched by the US military.

The New York Times reported that “the White House appears to favour” the CIA’s request “despite the misgivings of some at the Pentagon.”

Highlighting President Donald Trump’s keen interest in drones, other US media outlets reported that he made it a point also to visit the office that oversees the drone strikes when he visited the CIA headquarters soon after his inauguration in January this year.

The media also pointed out that while former president Obama insisted that drone strikes be used sparingly and only after top officials across the government reviewed them, President Trump has no such scruples.

“The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms,” said Trump while outlining his policy for South Asia in August.

“Retribution will be fast and powerful, as we lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field.”

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