Early in President Obama’s time in office, CIA drone strikes became hugely common and extremely controversial. The large-scale killing, done publicly but with the CIA refusing even basic transparency, was ultimately scaled back shortly before Obama left office, with a transfer of much of the drone campaign from the CIA to the Pentagon.
With growing focus on Africa, and the Pentagon not having a substantial existing infrastructure there, however, the CIA is making a comeback. After former CIA Director Mike Pompeo started pushing the matter with Trump, limits on CIA drone flights were scaled back.
Across Africa, but especially in Niger and Libya, CIA flights are soaring. Officials say that so far, they have mostly been surveillance flights, but lethal attacks are a virtual certainty, and very soon, because of growing CIA interest in attacks in southern Libya.
A key factor in this shift was the Niger ambush incident, in which four US soldiers were killed. The US almost immediately started hectoring the Nigerien government for permission to use the drone base there for armed flights, as previously only surveillance was allowed. Niger gave in, and now the base that had been growing is launching armed US drones.
With President Trump pushing the Pentagon to be less and less transparent, the CIA resumption of drone killings will lead to even more opacity, as fatal drone strikes will be able to be unreported by both sides, leaving it uncertain which actually carried out any specific attack.