US airstrikes in eastern Yemen over the weekend targeted Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, continuing the effort to disrupt “a terror organisation that presents a very significant threat to the” US, a Navy spokesman said on Monday.
The weekend strikes, reportedly about 20 in total and mostly unmanned, brings the totalagainst AQAP since February 28 to 70.
All told, Trump has ordered 75 drone strikes or raids in his first 74 days in office, according to Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
By Zenko’s tally, Obama signed off on 542 such strikes during the eight years — or 2,920 days — he spent in office.
Obama’s total works out to about one every 5.4 days, the first two coming on January 23, 2009, in Waziristan, Pakistan, and thought to have killed as many as 20 civilians.
In comparison, since Trump took office, he has overseen about one strike a day on average.
The first three strikes under his watch came on January 20, 21, and 22 — all of them targeting AQAP in central Yemen — followed a few days later by a SEAL raid in Yemen that left one SEAL and dozens of civilians dead.
The increased tempo of airstrikes appears to be part of a broader expansion of military efforts abroad under Trump.
In Iraq, where US personnel have been on the ground for some time assisting Iraqi forces and their partners in the fight against ISIS, the US-led coalition has reportedly streamlined the process for calling in strikes, based on directives issued in December and in recent weeks, ceding more direct control to personnel on the ground and near the front lines.
As the fight against ISIS has advanced into west Mosul, airstrikes by the US-led coalition and Iraqi air forces appear to be killing an increasing number of civilians, though close-quarters fighting in the city and ISIS’ efforts to put civilians in harm’s way have also boosted the body count.
In neighbouring Syria, where the US-led coalition is also aiding local groups in their fight against ISIS, US personnel have recently expanded their footprint.
More recently, the US Air Force has expanded an air base in northern Syria that will play a major role in the effort to recapture Raqqa, the terror group’s self-proclaimed capital.
In a departure from Obama-era policy, the Pentagon will now no longer disclose how many US personnel are deploying to Iraq and Syria. Trump has also returned authority to conduct drone strikes to the CIA, which the Obama administration limited in the interest of transparency.
The Trump administration’s March 2 drone strike in Pakistan was the first such strike in that country since May 2016.
A shift in messaging by the Trump administration also appears to have brought about a change in tactics by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
That change, which includes targeting Red Sea ports, seems likely to heighten the risk of famine in the war-torn country.
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