Defense Secretary Orders More Focus On Limiting Civilian Harm After Botched Airstrikes
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a directive to his staff to improve the military’s approach to civilian harm mitigation and response, calling it a “moral imperative.”
In a memo to senior civilian and military officials, Austin said the plan should outline steps the Pentagon will take — and the resources it will require — to implement recommendations from previous studies of the problem. He wants the plan to reach his office within 90 days.
“The protection of civilians is fundamentally consistent with the effective, efficient, and decisive use of force in pursuit of U.S. national interests, and our efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm are a direct reflection of U.S. values,” Austin wrote.
“We will revisit the ways in which we assess incidents that may have resulted in civilian harm, acknowledge the harm to civilians that resulted from such incidents, and incorporate lessons learned into the planning and execution of future combat operations and into our tactics, techniques, and procedures.”
The Pentagon has faced criticism for years over civilian casualties in its missions, with investigations finding repeated failures in efforts to prevent civilian deaths and a cover-up of a 2019 airstrike that killed dozens of Syrian women and children.
ACLU’s National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi said the focus on civilian harm is “long overdue,” but she isn’t sure Austin’s directive is sufficient.
“Actions will speak louder than words, and we need urgent action to end 20 years of war-based approaches that have devastated lives,” Shamsi said.
“Start with a truly systemic overhaul of our country’s civilian harm policies to address the massive structural flaws, likely violations of international law, and probable war crimes that have occurred in the last 20 years.”