US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has urged the military to do more to avoid civilian casualties in airstrikes after several deadly blunders that tarnished the reputation of the US military.
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Protecting civilians is a “strategic and moral imperative,” Austin noted in a memo to the military chain of command released Thursday.
“We will review how we assess incidents that may have caused harm to civilians, recognize harm inflicted on civilians…and incorporate lessons learned into the preparation and execution of future operations,” he said. he added.
The minister gave the Pentagon three months to submit an action plan to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, then three additional months to develop new instructions for drone operators and their chain of command.
He further decided to create a “center of excellence” to develop better tools capable of reducing the risks for civilians, and to gather on a single database all the incidents known by the various commands of the American army. in the world, in order to learn from it.
These measures were recommended by a report by the Rand think tank commissioned by the Pentagon at the request of Congress.
Submitted in February 2021 to the Pentagon, but made public on Thursday, this report concludes that the various commands of the American army do not sufficiently share the lessons learned from their mistakes and that the American Department of Defense does not compensate the families of the victims of coherent way.
The U.S. military has thus much more often granted “ex-gratia” compensation — that is, it grants financial compensation to the families of the victims without acknowledging its legal responsibility — in Afghanistan than in Iraq. , noted one of the authors of the report, Michael McNerney.
“The Pentagon needs to explain more clearly the purpose of these payments,” he told reporters. “Are they there to help US forces or unit commanders, as some have used them in Afghanistan, or should they be used to recognize wrongdoing and hold them to account?”
These reforms come after the publication of several New York Times investigations showing that the drone strikes favored since 2014 by the American army in its war against jihadist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have caused thousands of civilian victims, including many children.
The daily also accused an American special force operating in Syria – sometimes in the greatest secrecy – of having bombed three times in March 2019 a group of civilians near Baghouz, the last stronghold of the Islamic State group (IS). ) in Syria, killing 70 people including women and children.
The most recent US military blunder occurred on August 27 in Kabul, in the final days of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, when a drone strike mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children.