Biden administration releases details of Trump-era counter-terrorism rules, now suspended

“I stand by the policies I helped produce,” a top counter-terror adviser to the former president said. 

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Complying with a court order, the Biden administration has released the rules of engagement issued by former President Donald Trump in 2017 for carrying out counter-terrorism operations outside of conventional war zones, the New York Times reported Saturday.

With the release, in which some of the details were redacted, the White House also suspended the rules covering drone strikes and covert military ground operations until it reviews and decides whether or not to change the guidelines.

Air strikes by remote-controlled, pilot-less drones began during the Bush administration, predominantly following the 9/11 terror attacks. The number of drone strikes surged during President Barack Obama’s first term, but were moderated when he imposed more specific rules that required high-level inter-agency review to determine if the terror target posed a threat to Americans, coupled with what Obama wanted as “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders would be killed, the report noted.

Trump secretly revised the guidelines in October 2017, relaxing the conditions and allowing operators to make engagement decisions so long as the guidelines had been met outside of the existing war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Most of the operations carried out are classified, but last October a judge accepted a Freedom of Information petition from the Times and American Civil Liberties Union and ordered the government to release the guidelines document, which was received on Friday.

The Biden administration is reviewing the history of the military operations from both the Obama and Trump terms in order to develop its own policy, the report said.

ACLU lawyer Brett Max Kaufman alleged the Trump guidelines “stripped down even the minimal safeguards President Obama established in his rules for lethal strikes outside recognized conflicts” and called on Biden to end “secretive and unaccountable use of lethal force.”

However, those secret strikes also took place under Obama. Thomas P. Bossert, who was a top counter-terrorism adviser to Trump and helped develop the new rules, said he was proud of the guidelines and argued that the policy “should not be dismissed or replaced without careful consideration and an examination of the results it produced.”

“I stand by the policies I helped produce,” Bossert said. “They were informed by American values, the principles of the laws of armed conflict, and tailored to combat the real and present threat to America and her allies.”

The new Biden rules may have to be put in place sooner rather than later, as the president has promised to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan by this September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

That withdrawal would require the redeployment of the USAF’s drones at the Kandahar air base in Afghanistan. Given that the large military drones can stay airborne for up to 42 hours, the aircraft operating out of the Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates could fly the roughly 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) and stay on patrol in the skies over Afghanistan and neighboring countries where terrorists are known to operate.

The Biden administration wants to maintain America’s ability to strike at terrorist threats there, but with a withdrawal those strikes would be subject to the rules for airstrikes outside of conventional war zones.

The Times reported that the Obama-era national-security officials brought back to Biden’s team may roll back some of the Trump guidelines at least partly. According to the report, however, those familiar with internal deliberations. however, said military and intelligence professionals at the time believed Obama’s rules were too bureaucratic.