Drone Wars: New Rules Allow More Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Syria

Image via Bob Brown/Reuters
Image via Bob Brown/Reuters

Just six months after documents were released that revealed that in some cases, U.S. drone strikes kill innocent civilians 90 percent of the time, a new report claims that the Pentagon has approved new rules allowing strikes with a greater risk for civilian causalities.

According to a report from USA Today, which cited six anonymous Defense Department officials, the authority to launch airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria used to require formal approval from a four-star U.S. commander.

Not only has that authority shifted to lower-level commanders on the ground, but the officials also claim that there are now “several targeting areas in which the probability of 10 civilian casualties are permitted.”

The officials cited in the report claim that the U.S. military justifies “a strike with the potential to wound or kill several civilians” by relying on the fact that it would have “prevented [ISIS] fighters from causing greater harm.”

While the report claimed that before the change, “there were some limited cases in which civilian casualties were allowed,” the officials did not address the series of documents released in Oct. 2015 that offered an unprecedented look into President Obama’s drone program.

The documents, which were released by an anonymous whistleblower and published by The Intercept, claimed that from Jan. 2012 to Feb. 2013, as a part of the campaign Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan, “U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people,” but only “35 were the intended targets.”

The documents note that during a five-month period of the same operation, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.” The source claimed that “anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association.”

While some might question how President Obama justifies such a program, he said in Sept. 2015 that he is doing less damage than a Republican president would, and that if he were “taking the advice of some of the members of Congress who holler all the time, we’d be in, like, seven wars right now.”

“I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been counting. We’d be in military actions in seven places around the world,” Obama continued, referencing the countries of Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen, which have all been targets of U.S. drone strikes.

Some legal experts said that the counterterrorism policy laid out by Obama in May 2013 “would likely cut the number of strikes by establishing that Americans must be directly threatened, applying the standards for targeting Americans to all strikes, and saying there needs to be near-certainty that no civilians would be killed.”

However, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden added clarification to the policy in Sept. 2014 when she admitted that while the Pentagon will “take all credible allegations seriously,” Obama’s strict policy on airstrikes “does not cover the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

The question remains: If the current policy justifies killing 10 innocent civilians in order to kill one suspected ISIS militant, where do we stop? Why is “Well, ISIS was going to kill them anyway” being used an excuse? And if we begin putting a price tag on human lives, then how does that make us any better than them?

Follow Rachel Blevins on Facebook and Twitter.

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Rachel Blevins is a journalist who aspires to break the left/right paradigm in media and politics by pursuing truth and questioning existing narratives.

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