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Austin Orders Overhaul to Higher Protect Civilians During U.S. Combat Operations

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday announced sweeping changes aimed toward reducing risks to civilians in U.S. military operations by fostering a culture during which those in the sector view stopping such harm as a core a part of their missions.

A 36-page motion plan directs broad changes at every level of military planning, doctrine, training and policy in not only counterterrorism drone strikes but in addition in any future major conflict. It includes emerging war-fighting tactics like attacks on satellites and computer systems.

The directive — which follows an investigative series by The Latest York Times into civilian deaths from American airstrikes — accommodates 11 major objectives. They’re aimed toward helping commanders higher understand the presence of noncombatants before any operations begin, and so they require operators to contemplate potential consequences for civilians in any combat motion.

The steps include putting officials accountable for reducing civilian harm contained in the combatant commands and Pentagon policy offices; imposing a recent system to cut back the chance of misidentifying targets and “confirmation bias” — the tendency to favor information that confirms pre-existing beliefs; and making a 30-person center to handle departmentwide evaluation and training regarding civilian 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 attentive serious about that goal as doctrine in its mission planning.

“We are going to make sure that we’re well prepared to forestall, mitigate and reply to civilian harm in current and future conflicts,” Mr. Austin wrote, adding, “Importantly, this plan is scalable and relevant to each counterterrorism operations and large-scale conflicts against peer adversaries.”

(The term peer adversaries is widely understood to be shorthand for major nation-state competitors like Russia and China, which engage in space and cyberoperations in addition to traditional air, land and sea combat.)

Some human rights advocates, who’ve lobbied the Pentagon for years to strengthen its policies and practices to forestall civilian harm, praised the plan’s scope and breadth.

“This can be a sea change,” said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon official who later investigated civilian deaths attributable to U.S. military operations for the United Nations. “It doesn’t mean civilians won’t be killed in war anymore. They are going to. But when this plan is implemented and properly resourced, it is going to ensure fewer people will die and create a way for the Defense Department to reply when civilians are killed.”

Still, Mr. Garlasco said the plan didn’t fully address several questions, including how the military would improve its ability to estimate civilian casualties; how information from outside groups can be incorporated into the Pentagon’s civilian harm assessments; and whether individual officials or commanders can be held accountable for violations.

The plan also doesn’t say whether the brand new efforts will include reopening or studying past incidents that resulted in civilian deaths. “Investigating and making amends for past harm is critical to achieving the type of accountability and learning that the motion plan rightly strives for,” said Annie Shiel, a senior adviser for the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

U.S. military members are taught that the laws of war prevent intentionally targeting civilians or carrying out strikes when the anticipated scale of civilian deaths is disproportionate to the combat aim. Military leaders and presidents have also long articulated a policy of minimizing or trying to forestall collateral damage.

Nevertheless, the laws 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 results have change into way more acute within the twenty first century. Amongst other things, the widespread sharing of videos from cellphones and other sources on social media has sharply increased the chance of backlash that may undermine broader strategic goals.

Against that backdrop, the Defense Department has come under pressure to do more to forestall civilian harm.

Human rights organizations have worked for years to call greater attention to civilian casualties. Reporters at a lot of news outlets have written investigative articles about botched strikes. Congress has imposed restrictions on some military funds until the Pentagon submits a civilian casualty policy. Early this yr, the RAND Corporation published a congressionally mandated report that critically evaluated the military’s procedures on civilian casualties.

Officials have said that the Latest York Times series, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting this yr, had also helped bring concerning the changes. It included an investigation into systemic failures to forestall civilian deaths in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, based on a trove of internal Pentagon reviews and visits to the sites of greater than 100 incidents. Other parts of the series revealed a covered-up strike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of ladies and kids and a botched drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 people last August, in the course of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Mr. Austin, a retired four-star Army general with combat experience, pledged in November to overhaul military procedures and hold top officers accountable for carrying out changes. In January, he ordered officials to develop the document released on Thursday, the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Motion 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.

A senior Defense Department official, in a briefing to reporters, said the plan envisioned spending tens of tens of millions of dollars per yr, a few of which might come from the Pentagon budget and a few of which they intended to request from Congress as recent funding. It might include about 150 recent positions throughout the department, including about 30 for the civilian protection center, which is predicted to start work in the approaching months.

In his memo, Mr. Austin called the changes “each ambitious and crucial” and said the trouble would wish continuous support from future administrations to succeed. Officials have said the thought is to embed the brand new practices and sensibility in a way that might make them difficult to desert.

“The department has laid out a reputable plan for starting to deal with these issues, nevertheless it now must be effectively implemented and resourced,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee.

Much of the document is dense with recent bureaucratic procedures aimed toward ensuring that greater attention to potential impact on civilians — and civilian infrastructure like power plants and water-purification systems — during mission planning is incorporated as basic doctrine.

“It’s just attempting to apply a consistent approach across the department in order that this becomes a matter of how we do business systemically” as a substitute of episodically, Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the 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 a mechanism for the general public to submit allegations and recent procedures for investigating such claims.

The plan also expands how the U.S. military can reply to victims, including condolence payments to survivors and members of the family of those harmed, in addition to paying for medical care and the repair of damaged infrastructure.

Recent efforts to supply such aid to civilian casualty survivors and their members of the family have largely faltered. Nobody has received condolence payments or other types of monetary assistance from the U.S. military for the drone strike in Kabul last yr, for instance.

Joanna Naples-Mitchell, a human rights attorney representing greater than a dozen victims of civilian casualty incidents acknowledged by the U.S. military, said that while the plan represents a hopeful shift toward providing more types of assistance to victims, few payments have been made.

“I actually have submitted multiple cases within the last yr for consideration where families have family members who were injured or killed or each and so they were requesting amends,” she said, “and people requests were denied with none explanation.”

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