The CIA, along with U.S. special operations forces, have launched a new campaign of targeted killings in Syria using armed drones. Several recent strikes in Syria are attributed to the program, which is being carried out by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
The CIA’s role relates to the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), which is involved in target selection and location of ISIS members. U.S Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) oversees JSOC, but declined to comment on the program.
The choice to involve CIA and JSOC assets in the fight against ISIS illustrates an increase in the perceived risk from the militant group. The CTC previously used drones in the search for Osama bin Laden.
The program comes amid a push by the Obama administration to re-focus the CIA’s efforts on espionage, and away from its recent trend toward becoming a paramilitary force. Opposition from Capitol Hill lawmakers, however, has led to a shift in the administration’s strategy where the Syria offensive may be used as a model for future conflicts. This would have the CIA’s continued involvement in the targeting procedure, with JSOC responsible for the execution of the actual strike missions.
The JSOC group Delta Force was reported to have launched a raid in May of this year, killing an ISIS leader as well as capturing intelligence that helped to form the current list of targets for the Syria program.
A British militant known as Junaid Hussain was killed last month after being linked to the gunmen killed in Garland, Texas. U.S. officials stated that Hussain was involved in social media campaigning for ISIS, illustrating a shift in policy, which had previously barred the killing of terrorist suspects only involved in propaganda.
Syria is the latest battleground in a drone strike campaign that already includes Pakistan, Yemen, North Africa, and Somalia.