WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is nearing completion of a detailed counterterrorism manual that is designed to establish clear rules for targeted-killing operations but leaves open a major exemption for the CIAs campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.
The carve-out would allow the CIA to continue pounding al-Qaida and Taliban targets for a year or more before the agency is forced to comply with more stringent rules spelled out in a classified document that officials have described as a counterterrorism playbook.
The document, which is expected to be submitted to President Obama for final approval within weeks, marks the culmination of a yearlong effort by the White House to codify its counterterrorism policies and create a guide for lethal operations through Obamas second term.
The adoption of a formal guide to targeted killing marks a significant milestone: the institutionalization of a practice that would have seemed anathema to many before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Among the subjects covered in the playbook are the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that govern when U.S. citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or U.S. military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.
The decision to allow the CIA strikes to continue was driven in part by concern that the window for weakening al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistan is beginning to close, with plans to pull most U.S. troops out of neighboring Afghanistan over the next two years. CIA drones are flown out of bases in Afghanistan.
Theres a sense that you put the pedal to the metal now, especially given the impending withdrawal, said a former U.S. official involved in discussions of the playbook. The CIA exception is expected to be in effect for less than two years but more than one, the former official said, although he noted that any decision to close the carve-out will undoubtedly be predicated on facts on the ground.
Current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were talking about ongoing sensitive matters.