Lost in the pandemonium of the last few weeks’ focus on the possible repeal of Obamacare, passage (or not) of a new health care bill, possible Trump campaign ties to the Russian government, and all the other shenanigans swirling about Washington, D.C. these days, was pretty clear evidence that the Trump administration has delegated quite a bit of counter terrorism authority to the Pentagon and CIA. Perhaps the proper term is “re-delegated,” as some of the authorities were previously withdrawn by the Obama administration. Regardless of the terminology used, it is clear — if reports are true — that the CIA and U.S. military are expanding their role in directing the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda.
The first illustration of this new power was the reported lethal drone strike on al-Qaeda deputy leader Abu al-Khayr al-Masri in Syria in late February 2017. Masri was the deputy to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and according to a CNN report that was also confirmed by CBS News, he was killed by a CIA drone strike. This would appear to indicate a return to the use of lethal drone strikes by the CIA, authority over which was reportedly shifted to the Pentagon under the Obama administration.
As far as the Pentagon’s expanded decision-making authority, the Economist reported this month that when asked about the deployment of 400 additional U.S. Marines and Army Rangers to northern Syria for an operation to retake the Tabqa Dam near Raqqa, Syria, White House press secretary Sean Spicer commented that the President “was made aware of that.” This would seem to indicate that the President has delegated decision-making authority down the chain, in order to give the agencies primarily responsible for battling ISIS and al-Qaeda as much leeway as possible to act.
According to the same Economist article, furthermore, President Trump has permitted the U.S. military to bomb areas in three provinces in Yemen that are not technically considered part of a “war zone,” but rather, that qualify as “areas of active hostilities.” That is some bureaucratic speak if I have ever heard any, and I have. What it actually means is that President Trump is allowing the military to choose where it feels it must act against a terrorist group, while trying to minimize the political interference many saw as stifling some operations during the Obama administration.