Pakistan News

Senator calls for shifting drones from CIA to US military

Senator calls for shifting drones from CIA to US military

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: A key US senator has demanded shifting the drone programme from the CIA to the American military even as media reports revealed that a presidential exemption allowed the agency to increase the air strikes in Pakistan.

Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, told CNN that drone strikes against suspected enemy combatants on foreign soil should be run by the US military and not the Central Intelligence Agency.

Also read: Obama gave CIA 'secret waiver' for Pakistan drone strikes: report

“I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defence,” said the senator, adding that he believed the military had the expertise to carry out these strikes more responsibly.

The CIA has come under tremendous pressure in the United States since last week, when President Barack Obama told his nation that CIA drones had mistakenly killed an American and an Italian aid workers. Mr Obama apologised and took full responsibility for the deaths.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that President Obama tightened rules for the CIA drone programme in 2013, but he secretly approved a waiver giving the agency more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere.

The new rules, designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, required the CIA to ensure that proposed targets posed an imminent threat to the US. But the waiver “exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan”, the report said.

Critics of the drone programme argue that if the agency had followed these restrictions in Pakistan as well, it could have avoided killing the two hostages, Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Both were killed in a drone strike on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout where the two hostages were also kept.

After the death of the two hostages, President Obama ordered a review to ensure mistakes like this are not repeated.

But Senator McCain argued that this should have been done before the two hostages were killed.

“I think it was probably preventable, in that there was an obvious breakdown in intelligence. They didn’t know that they were there,” he said of the January drone strike.

In a separate report, The New York Times reported that the CIA had “quietly shifted” the head of its drone programme, Michael D’Andrea, to another job.

The officer, a converted Muslim, presided over the growth of CIA drone operations and hundreds of strikes in Pakistan and Yemen during nine years in the position.

Last month by Director CIA John O. Brennan, replaced Mr D’Andrea with Chris Wood, who has served as station chief in Kabul. Most recently, he supervised all CIA operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2015

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