Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kucinich, Conyers look to block White House effort to expand drone strikes

Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) are pushing legislation that would roll back a recent White House decision to expand drone strikes against terrorist targets around the world.

 The legislation was introduced as an amendment to the House version of the 2013 defense budget bill. House members plan to bring that amendment and others up for floor debate on Thursday.

 If approved, the amendment would block members of the Pentagon's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from carrying out unmanned airstrikes under newly rewritten White House authority on those operations. Specifically, the amendment would stop JSOC members from participating in combat operations "in which an unmanned aerial vehicle is used to attack a target who's identity is unknown or is based solely on patters of behavior.

 The Kucinich-Conyers legislation flies directly in the face of the Obama administration's decision to execute those types of airstrikes, particularly against suspected terror targets in Yemen.

 In April, the White House approved a CIA request that would allow the agency to hit terror targets tied to al Qaeda's Yemen cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), even when it doesn’t know their identities.

 Before the new rules, U.S. military and intelligence planners used classified lists of known terror targets to plan unmanned airstrikes. Additionally, those strikes could not be executed until U.S. intelligence confirmed a target was at a certain location.

 Now, American drones can take out targets where suspected terrorists could be at a certain locations, without confirmation of their actual presence. Targets in areas like Yemen can also be hit if U.S. intelligence picks up signs terror groups in that area are planning an attack against American targets, under the new White House rules.

 The newly empowered U.S. drone campaign has produced significant results, particularly against AQAP. A U.S-led airstrike on May 3 against an al Qaeda-run training camp in southern Yemen Wednesday ended in the deaths of 15 militants.

 Yemeni al Qaeda leader Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, was killed by a CIA drone strike in eastern Yemen on May 5.

 Weeks before the al-Quso strike, unmanned drones likely operated by the CIA killed a dozen members of AQAP in Abyan province in southern Yemen.

 Information that led to the al-Quso strike reportedly came from a Saudi double agent who had infiltrated the AQAP ranks. That agent, who was working for U.S., British and Saudi intelligence, also reportedly helped foil an AQAP plot to blow up an American commercial airliner to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death. 

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