The United States has "relaxed" its rules regarding unmanned drone attacks in Yemen, giving the CIA and the military the authority to fire on suspected militants even when their identity can't be totally confirmed. The change in policy was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and the story comes out as FBI director Robert Mueller is visiting the country to discuss the ongoing fight against al Qaeda. Yemen has agreed to allow the increased drone attacks — which are essentially assassinations of individual terrorists — in its own country in exchange for more counterterrorism aid that it needs to fight against al Qaeda as well.
The U.S. says the change "broadens the aperture slightly" (a delightful new euphemism) and allows a much more aggressive approach to taking out terrorists. Not as aggressive as it would like, however, as some American officials reportedly wanted to expand the strikes to include larger groups of low-level fighters, a move that Yemen rejected due to concerns about collateral damage.
Like many leaders in the regions, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi faces the dilemma of needing U.S. power to protect his regime, even as anger at Americans is what gives fuel to the terrorist groups gaining strength in his country. For example, he has approved the new rules on drone attacks, but drones themselves must take off and land outside of Yemen, a technical distinction that is probably lost on those being shot at.
The move also signals that American officials now consider Yemen to be on par with Pakistan when it comes to housing terrorist group and their training bases. The U.S. has launched 12 such strikes already this year and 23 total since last May.