March 6, 2019 / 9:18 PM / 12 days ago

U.S. halts reporting of civilian deaths by drone outside war zones

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he meets with former hostage Danny Burch, an oil engineer who was taken hostage in Yemen in September 2017, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that revoked an Obama-era policy requiring U.S. intelligence officials to report civilian deaths in drone strikes outside of active war zones.

President Barack Obama put the policy in place in 2016 as part of an effort to be more transparent about drone strikes after he had dramatically increased their use against Islamist militants.

Trump’s rescinding of the policy was done with little fanfare. The White House released the text of his executive order.

“This action eliminates superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” an administration official said.

The Obama policy had required the U.S. director of national intelligence to release by May 1 each year an unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States against militant targets outside areas of active hostilities.

“The United States government is fully committed to complying with its obligations under the law of armed conflict, minimizing, to the greatest extent possible, civilian casualties, and acknowledging responsibility when they unfortunately occur during military operations,” the administration official said.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat who chairs the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, in a statement called the requirement issued by Obama “an important measure of transparency,” and said “there is simply no justification” for cancelling it.

“Today’s decision underscores the need for Congress to make this reporting mandatory, something I intend to pursue through the Intelligence Authorization Act this year,” he said.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler

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