After failing to meet a deadline to report data on the number of civilians and enemy combatants killed by U.S. drone strikes outside of war zones, President Donald Trump on Wednesday officially rescinded the requirement that U.S. intelligence officials publicly report that information.
Trump formally ended the reporting obligation by executive order, stating that an “unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and non combatant deaths resulting from those strikes” was no longer required.
The Obama-era requirement was aimed at increasing transparency in an effort to limit the number of civilian deaths as a result of drone strikes in countries like Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. It is often difficult to collect accurate data on drone strikes, as they typically occur in remote areas, away from the watchful eyes of journalists and NGOs, a reality that made the reporting requirement all the more important.
The number of drone strikes abroad has dramatically increased since Trump took office. As ThinkProgress previously reported, a recent investigation conducted by the Associated Press and the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that, under Trump, the United States has carried out 176 strikes in Yemen. During President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, 154 strikes were carried out in the war-torn country, which is currently in the midst of a famine.
The investigation also found that, during the Trump administration, at least 205 civilians have died by U.S. drone strikes abroad. Of the 88 people killed in Yemen this year, at least 30 were likely not al-Qaeda fighters.
The Trump administration also defended a horrific Saudi missile strike on a bus in Yemen last year that killed 51 people, including at least 40 children. The use of drones in counter-terrorism operations fall outside the rules that govern war, and although the United States supports Saudi Arabia’s effort in Yemen, the United States is not officially at war with Yemen.
Previous intelligence reports under the Obama administration were far from comprehensive. The administration, for example, claimed that in all of 2016, only one civilian outside an active war zone was killed by a drone strike. That number, along with a 2016 report from the Obama administration, was decried by human rights organizations.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration’s new order has major repercussions for government transparency and the ability to gather data on the full scope of U.S. drone strikes.
The Trump administration has never shared information with the public on civilian deaths from drones strikes, and now, will no longer be required to do so.
D. Parvaz contributed reporting to this story.