The CIA is urging the White House to approve an expansion of the agency’s armed drones’ fleet, a newspaper reported on Friday.
The proposal by CIA Director David Petraeus would allow the agency to sustain its campaign of lethal air strikes in Pakistan and Yemen as well as enabling it to shift operations and target the emerging al-Qaeda threat in North Africa.
If approved, the CIA could receive up to ten new drones, adding to an inventory that has ranged between 30 to 35 drones over recent years.
One U.S. official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the request reflects the issue of political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa and new openings for al-Qaeda and its affiliates to operate in the region.
“With what happened in Libya, we’re realizing that these places are going to heat up,” he official in reference to Libya’s September 11 attack against U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.
No decisions have been made about moving armed CIA drones into these regions, but officials have begun to map out contingencies. “I think we’re actually looking forward a little bit.”
The campaign of U.S. drone airstrikes in Yemen is heating up, officials in the country said after a drone strike on Thursday that killed at least seven al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The CIA’s proposal for additional drones will be evaluated by a specialist group led by U.S. President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John O’ Brennan, according to official protocol.
The group includes senior officials from the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies. It is also directly involved in deciding which alleged al-Qaeda operatives are added to “kill” lists.
The group decides on allocation of assets, including whether the CIA or the Defense Department takes possession of newly delivered drones.
The CIA can either remain a central player in the targeted killings of terrorism suspects abroad or gradually return to focus on intelligence gathering, depending if the proposal is approved or not.
The newspaper said that CIA intends to continue its drone campaign in Afghanistan to search for top al-Qaeda official Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s successor.