The Biden administration's National Security Council is reportedly still considering "raising the bar" for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon to conduct Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) strikes and commando raids in Afghanistan once US troops are withdrawn from there.
CNN has cited unnamed sources as saying that the White House is also considering the removal of the combat zone designation for Afghanistan.
Over the past few years, this technical distinction has had a significant impact on how freely the US could use lethal drone strikes and commando raids in terrorism hotspots like Somalia and Yemen.
The Trump administration allowed commanders in the field to make targeting decisions under their own authority, but the Biden team moved to review the rules.
According to the sources, "it remains to be seen if the [Biden] administration will put Afghanistan on a similar footing or implement specific criteria for terrorists there post-withdrawal".
The insiders claimed that membership in al-Qaeda* or Daesh* would not necessarily be automatic grounds for a drone strike under the possible new rules.
"The new framework under consideration would require a more thorough interagency vetting process and more extensive White House involvement before the CIA conducts a lethal operation in Afghanistan", the sources stressed.
US Troop Withdrawal May Disrupt CIA Network in Afghanistan
The remarks followed US media reports that the withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan will most likely disrupt a CIA network that was created there more than twenty years ago.
According to the reports, intelligence obtained by agents working on the ground is crucial for secret CIA missions, including those related to drone strikes.
This was preceded by CIA Director Bill Burns warning that "when the time comes for the US military to withdraw [from Afghanistan], the US government's ability to collect and act on threats will diminish", which is "simply a fact".
At the same time, the CIA boss pledged that his agency would retain "a suite of capabilities, some of them remaining in place, some of them that we'll generate that can help us to anticipate and contst any rebuilding effort [by al-Qaeda* or ISIS*]".
In a nod to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, POTUS stressed that both US troops and forces deployed by Washington's NATO allies and operational partners "will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of the heinous attack on 11 September, but we will not take our eyes off the terrorist threat".
He added that he had consulted with former US President George W. Bush before making his decision on the American troop withdrawal.
*al-Qaeda, Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State), terrorist groups banned in Russia and a number of other countries