US officials are adding more details to their confirmation last week that a British hacker was killed in a drone strike in Syria, saying that the strike was part of an ongoing assassination campaign against ISIS being run by the CIA, and is totally separate from the US war on ISIS in Syria.
The CIA campaign is going to be exclusively drone strikes, according to officials familiar with the situation, and it was described as a “significant escalation” of the CIA’s campaign against ISIS. They say the assassinations are aimed exclusively at “high-value targets.”
The officials described the British hacker as one such “high-value target,” part of the ongoing US claims that he was a “top recruiter” for ISIS alongside serving as a “cybersecurity expert” for ISIS. Officials accused him of being involved in hacking the Pentagon’s Twitter account in January.
The CIA has been involved in various operations against ISIS for years, of course, and has also been doing all sorts of different things in Syria, mostly arming dubious rebel factions. That they are escalating this to a drone war concurrent with an actual war must inevitably raise eyebrows, as previously the US has been very careful to keep CIA drone wars distinct from Pentagon-run wars.
The war is targeting ISIS so far, but officials say that they are also authorized to attack al-Qaeda militants or any other “operatives” suspected of advancing ISIS goals to expand their caliphate further across Syria, a nation they already control more than half of.
But officials say that the CIA war, at least in Syria, is comparatively small, and that they’ve launched relatively few strikes compared to the military. That the two are both launching strikes in the same theater will only add to complications about investigating civilian casualties, as it will allow each side to deny being the one behind a particular incident.
Officials are also insisting that the Syria war won’t be using the same model as the Pakistan and Yemen drone wars, but rather that the Syria CIA war, in which they are working closely with special forces, could itself be a model for even more drone wars elsewhere around the world.
This plan to expand CIA war-making comes amid some pushes from the Pentagon, which believes that as the military wars should sort of be their thing exclusively. Running wars concurrently only adds to the confusion, and seems to reflect an intention by the Obama Administration to keep the CIA running wars of its own outside of traditional military purview.