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Pentagon lays out plan to reduce civilian deaths in US combat operations

The Pentagon on Thursday released a long-awaited plan aimed at reducing civilian casualties caused by U.S. military operations and proposed a better way to report and respond to incidents when they occur.  

The 36-page Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this week, directs sweeping changes in military planning, training, doctrine and policy for all future conflicts, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters. 

The idea is to install at all operational levels people “who are trained to have an understanding of civilian harm, the aspects of civilian harm mitigation, and operational planning,” at the start of any mission, Ryder said. 

The military’s Civilian Protection Center of Excellence will serve as the hub “that will provide expertise at a centralized location, but then that will be dispersed throughout the Department of Defense,” to include some estimated 150-plus individuals that will have special training on the matter, he added. 

Ahead of the report’s release, a senior Defense official told reporters the Pentagon envisions an eventual situation where those who are experts in the civilian environment “are sitting next to the operators, the threat-focused intel folks, the lawyers, as they are really developing whether it’s an individual operation or a campaign, and building in this component of civilian harm throughout the overall process.” 

The plan, which contains 11 major objectives, is meant to be “systemic” and “implementable immediately,” and is expected to cost “tens of millions of dollars” per year to execute, the official said.  

The document comes nearly a year after a botched Aug. 29 attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 10 people, including seven children, causing public outcry and significant scrutiny over U.S. drone strikes. 

That deadly blunder, coupled with a November investigation by The New York Times detailing a U.S. airstrike that killed 70 civilians, prompted Austin in January to order the Defense Department to develop a civilian harm mitigation “action plan.” 

The New York Times reported allegations that top officers and civilian officials tried to hide the casualties in the drone strike.  

In a memo included in the plan, Austin said the protection of civilians is both a “strategic priority” and a “moral imperative.” 

“We will ensure that we are well prepared to prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm in current and future conflicts,” Austin wrote, calling the changes “both ambitious and necessary.” 

The plan notably does not include any guidance or changes to punishment, should an individual or multiple people inaccurately or inappropriately order a strike that kills civilians.  

The Pentagon did not punish any individuals related to the Kabul strike, as it found that those involved had followed the correct procedures.  

Source: The Hill

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