The New US Policy on Civilian Casualties in Military Operations

I posted recently on the expected announcement from the Obama administration about civilians killed in US air attacks.  You can read a brief summary of this release here.  The best in-depth analysis I’ve seen is this article by Jack Serle.

I’m still happy with my original post now that the announcement is out .  However, I wish I had drawn attention to the work on casualty recording in drone attacks done by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) which is equal in quality to that of Airwars and at least as relevant since the BIJ covers the countries for which the Obama administration just released (very coarse) new information.

More importantly, Chris Woods of Airwars wrote in following my first post pointing out that there was a crucial new development that I hadn’t anticipated:

I think the most interesting thing to come out of today is not the (too low) civcas estimates, but Obama’s Executive Order on the reduction of – and monitoring of – civcas from US military actions (including covert) going forward.

There are some very positive things indeed here, which chime eg with some of EveryCasualty’s work – and also oblige the Pentagon and other US agencies to engage with NGO monitors

I just read the executive order and, indeed, it looks good.  Implementation is now the key  as argued by The Center for Civilians in Conflict, an organization which, I suspect, influenced Obama’s executive order.  And, of course, implementation will depend mostly on Obama’s successor.

Here are a few choice quotes from the order:

In addition to the responsibilities above, relevant agencies shall also, as appropriate and consistent with mission objectives and applicable law, including the law of armed conflict:

(i) review or investigate incidents involving civilian casualties, including by considering relevant and credible information from all available sources, such as other agencies, partner governments, and nongovernmental organizations, and take measures to mitigate the likelihood of future incidents of civilian casualties;

(ii) acknowledge U.S. Government responsibility for civilian casualties and offer condolences, including ex gratia payments, to civilians who are injured or to the families of civilians who are killed;

(iii) engage with foreign partners to share and learn best practices for reducing the likelihood of and responding to civilian casualties, including through appropriate training and assistance; and

(iv) maintain channels for engagement with the International Committee of the Red Cross and other nongovernmental organizations that operate in conflict zones and encourage such organizations to assist in efforts to distinguish between military objectives and civilians, including by appropriately marking protected facilities, vehicles, and personnel, and by providing updated information on the locations of such facilities and personnel.


Sec. 3. Report on Strikes Undertaken by the U.S. Government Against Terrorist Targets Outside Areas of Active Hostilities. (a) The Director of National Intelligence (DNI), or such other official as the President may designate, shall obtain from relevant agencies information about the number of strikes undertaken by the U.S. Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016, as well as assessments of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from those strikes, and publicly release an unclassified summary of such information no later than May 1, 2017. By May 1 of each subsequent year, as consistent with the need to protect sources and methods, the DNI shall publicly release a report with the same information for the preceding calendar year.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

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