Austin orders overhaul to better protect civilians in US combat operations

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Thursday announced sweeping changes aimed at reducing risks to civilians in U.S. military operations by promoting a culture in which those in the field view Preventing such harm is a core part of their mission.

One Action plan 36 pages directs widespread changes at every level of military planning, doctrine, training, and policy not only in counterterrorism drone strikes but in any major conflict any in the future. It includes emerging combat tactics such as satellite attacks and computer systems.

The directive includes 11 key objectives intended to help commanders and operators better understand the presence of non-bombing substances before any operations begin. It requires them to consider the potential consequences for civilians in any air raid, raid or other combat action.

It includes steps such as bringing in officials with the specific task of minimizing damage to civilians through key Pentagon policy orders and components; impose a new system to reduce the risk of confirmation bias and mistargeting; and created a center of 30 people to handle the analysis and training in the whole of civil protection.

In a memo to top military commanders and civilian leaders, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said the Pentagon must prioritize civilian protection and incorporate more thoughtful thinking. of that goal as a doctrine in its mission plan.

“We will ensure that we are well prepared to prevent, reduce, and respond to civilian damage in current and future conflicts,” Austin wrote, adding, “Importantly, This plan is scalable and suitable for both large-scale conflict and counter-terrorism operations against peer adversaries. “

(The term peer competitor is understood to be an abbreviation for major country-state competitors such as Russia and China, engaged in space and cyber activities as well as air and land warfare. and on the traditional sea.)

Some human rights campaigners, who have lobbied the Pentagon for years to strengthen policies and practices to prevent civilian harm, have praised the plan’s scope and breadth.

“This was a sea change,” said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon official who later investigated civilian deaths as a result of US military operations for the United Nations. . “It doesn’t mean that civilians won’t be killed in war anymore. They would. But if this plan is implemented and properly resourced, it will ensure fewer deaths and create a way for the Department of Defense to respond when civilians are killed.”

However, Mr. Garlasco said the plan did not fully address a number of questions, including how the military would improve its ability to estimate civilian casualties; how information from outside groups will be included in the Pentagon’s civilian harm assessment; and whether individual officials or commanders are held accountable for violations.

The plan also did not say whether the new efforts would include reopening or studying past incidents that resulted in civilian deaths. Annie Shiel, senior adviser at the Center for Civil Conflict, said: “Investigating and repairing past harm is critical to achieving accountability and knowing that the action plan has worked. right fight.

U.S. military members are taught that the laws of war prevent intentionally targeting civilians or launching attacks when the expected size of civilian casualties is disproportionate to the combat objective. Military leaders and presidents have also long since specify a policy minimize or attempt to prevent collateral damage.

However, the law of war and military doctrine accept that some civilian casualties will occur in combat. But beyond the moral weight of those deaths and damage, the consequences have become much more severe in the 21st century. In addition, the widespread sharing of videos from mobile phones and other sources on media Social media has sharply increased the risk of a backlash that could undermine broader strategic goals.

Against this backdrop, the Department of Defense is under pressure to do more to prevent civilian damage.

Human rights organizations have worked for years to call for greater attention to civilian casualties. Reporters at several news outlets wrote investigative articles about the failed strikes. Congress has imposed restrictions on some military funds until the Pentagon submits its civilian casualty policy. Earlier this year, RAND Corporation published a congressional mandate report critically evaluated military procedures for civilian casualties.

Mr. Austin, a retired four-star army general with combat experience, pledges in November to overhaul military procedures and hold top officials accountable for implementing the changes. In January, he ordered officials to develop a document to be released on Thursday, the Civil Harm Response and Mitigation Action Plan.

The drafting of the plan over the past several months was overseen by Colin H. Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy official, who worked closely with senior military officers.

In a press conference with reporters, a senior Defense Department official said the plan envisages spending tens of millions of dollars a year, some of which will come from the Pentagon budget and some from the Pentagon. of which they intend to ask Congress for new funding. It will include about 150 new positions in its entirety, including about 30 for the civil protection center, which is expected to begin work in the coming months.

In his memo, Mr. Austin called the changes “both ambitious and necessary” and said the effort would need continued support from future administrations to be successful. Officials say the idea is to integrate new practices and sensibilities in a way that makes them hard to give up.

“The Department has put together a credible plan to begin to address these issues, but now it needs to be done efficiently and with resources,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhodes Democrat. Island, head of the Armed Services Commission, said.

Much of the document is densely packed with new administrative procedures that warrant greater attention to the potential impact on civilians – and on civilian infrastructure such as power plants and water purification systems – in The mission planning process is incorporated into the underlying doctrine.

Brig. General Patrick S. Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.

Other highlights from the plan include standardizing reporting on how the Pentagon collects, shares and analyzes data related to civilian casualties, with mechanisms for the public to file charges and new procedures for investigating such claims.

The plan also expands how the US military can respond to victims, including paying condolences to survivors and family members of the victims, as well as paying for medical care. and repair damaged infrastructure.

Recent efforts to provide such aid to civilian casualties and their family members have largely faltered. For example, no one has yet received a condolence payment or other form of monetary assistance from the US military for last year’s drone attack in Kabul.

Joanna Naples-Mitchell, a human rights lawyer who has represented more than a dozen victims of civilian casualties admitted to the US military, said that while the plan represents a hopeful shift towards providing provided more forms of assistance to victims, some payments were made.

“I myself have submitted many cases over the past year for review where families have had loved ones injured or killed or both and they requested amendments,” she said, “and those requests were denied. refused without any explanation.”

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