Following press reports over the weekend, the Department of Defense has confirmed to C4ISRNET that it was responsible for three drone strikes in Yemen targeting and killing members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – thought to be the terror group's most potent affiliate by many. These mark the first lethal drone strikes of the Trump administration.

A spokesman for Central Command said on Jan. 20, one strike killed an AQAP operative in the al-Baydah Governorate – noting this was conducted prior to the inauguration. One strike killed three AQAP operatives in the al-Baydah Governorate and on Jan. 22, one strike killed an AQAP operative in the al-Baydah Governorate.

The Trump administration, both in the presidential campaign and in recent articulations of policy for the administration, has indicated it will be tough on terrorism. "Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority," reads a page on WhiteHouse.gov under the heading "America First Foreign Policy," regarding the Islamic State group, which is no longer affiliated with al-Qaeda and its global nodes.

It was unclear in the lead up to the transition of power if the Trump administration would maintain the seemingly complex authorities established by the Obama administration as it applied to use of force against terrorists in "areas outside active hostilities." While use of force consists of any lethal action, armed drones were a primary tool in this fight. Many in the conservative camp believed the Obama administration placed too many restrictions on use of force of terrorists abroad. That these policies were only minted from the Oval Office and not in statue begged the question of whether or not they would remain under the Trump administration in some form or fashion.

DoD confirmed that the authorizations for conducting strikes against AQAP remain the same.

In short, this means that since Yemen is outside areas of active hostilities, special targeting restrictions are put in place to minimize civilian casualties. A document released in the final month of the Obama presidency titled "Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States' Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations," aimed to provide legal justification and explanation of national security operations.

The 2013 "Presidential Policy Guidance on Procedures for Approving Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets Located Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities," or PPG, provided a legal framework for lethal action – to include drone strikes – in areas the U.S. was not actively at war in.

The report outlines several policy conditions that must be met before lethal force is used under the PPG. Lethal force will be used against terrorist targets posing only "a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons," certification of "near certainty" that terrorist target(s) is present and civilians will not be harmed, an assessment that capture is not feasible and an assessment that relevant government authorities within the country cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.

The report provides "Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and certain portions of Libya are currently designated as 'areas of active hostilities,' such that the PPG does not apply to direct actions taken in those locations."

The government formally guarded these strikes very closely as they were conducted under covert authorities overseen by the CIA. The quick claim of responsibility, and increased transparency in recent months as evidenced by releases from DoD, could be due in part to the June executive order on pre- and post-strike measures to address civilian casualties.

Bill Roggio, senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of FDD's Long War Journal agrees the increased transparency in both public releases of strikes and recent claim of responsibility, is due to the executive order. The Office of the Director or National Intelligence the day before the inauguration released the 2016 summary on the "number of strikes taken in 2016 by the U.S. Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities and the assessed number of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from those strikes," as required under the executive order.

Roggio also said he sees DoD and the CIA continuing through the processes that have been laid out by the previous administration – including the added transparency laid out by executive order – adding he sees no need for the Trump administration to lift the restrictions until they restrict certain policy goals or outcomes. Based upon comments made during the campaign and personnel within the administration, Roggio believes the Trump administration might be less restrictive in potential targeting rules than the Obama administration was.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.