The CIA is seeking permission to launch more airborne drone strikes in Yemen, even when there is a risk the victims might not always be terrorists, The Washington Post reported.
The targets would be chosen based on intelligence reports indicating suspicious behavior, such as images of militants unloading explosives or gathering at al-Qaeda compounds.
If President Barack Obama’s administration gives the CIA permission for the strikes, it could represent a politically dangerous escalation of US military activity in Yemen, the Post said.
There have been at least eight US airstrikes in Yemen in the past four months, the Post reported.
The Obama administration has tried until now to limit its drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into internal conflicts that could turn local militants into al-Qaeda recruits, the Post reported.
The Post quoted an unnamed Obama administration official saying that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States.”
However, disputes have arisen over the number of civilian deaths from drone strikes.
A US drone accidentally killed the teenaged American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki last year, despite the fact he never was accused of terrorist activity.
Some critics of the drone program say killings of innocent victims could become more common if the strikes are expanded.
The CIA proposal for the “signature strikes” is awaiting a decision by the National Security Council, the Post quoted unnamed US officials as saying.
The CIA has been flying drones in Yemen since last year from a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula, the Post reported.
The agency has been building networks of informants in Yemen to assemble intelligence reports that could guide the signature strikes, similar to its drone attacks against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the Post reported.