U.S.: Preventing Civilian Casualties Doesn’t Cover Iraq & Syria

The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.

A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria’s Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.

At a briefing for members and staffers of the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last week, Syrian rebel commanders described women and children being hauled from the rubble after a cruise missile destroyed a home for displaced civilians. Images of badly injured children also appeared on YouTube, helping to fuel anti-U.S. protests in a number of Syrian villages last week.

“They were carrying bodies out the rubble. … I saw seven or eight ambulances coming out of there,” said Abu Abdo Salabman, a political member of one of the Free Syria Army factions, who attended the briefing for Foreign Affairs Committee members and staff.

Residents inspect damaged buildings in what activists say was a U.S. strike, in Kfredrian, Idlib province September 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Abdalghne Karoof)
Residents inspect damaged buildings in what activists say was a U.S. strike, in Kfredrian, Idlib province September …

Hayden said that a much-publicized White House policy that President Obama announced last year barring U.S. drone strikes unless there is a “near certainty” there will be no civilian casualties does not cover the current U.S. air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

The “near certainty” standard was intended to apply “only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as we noted at the time,” Hayden said in an email. “That description — outside areas of active hostilities — simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.” 

The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of civilian areas and require armed forces to take precautions to prevent inadvertent civilian deaths as much as possible.
But one former Obama administration official said the new White House statement raises questions about how the U.S. intends to proceed in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and under what legal authorities.

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A man inspects a damaged site in what activists say was a U.S. strike, in Kfredrian, Idlib province September 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Abdalghne Karoof)

A man inspects a damaged site in what activists say was a U.S. strike, in Kfredrian, Idlib province September 23, …

“They seem to be creating this grey zone” for the conflict, said Harold Koh, who served as the State Department’s top lawyer during President Obama’s first term. “If we’re not applying the strict rules [to prevent civilian casualties] to Syria and Iraq, then they are of relatively limited value.”

The issue arose during last week’s briefing for two House Foreign Affairs Committee members and two staffers when rebel leaders associated with factions of the Free Syria Army complained about the civilian deaths — and the fact that the targets were in territory controlled by the Nusra Front, a sometimes ally of the U.S.-backed rebels in its war with the Islamic State and the Syrian regime.
But at least one of the House members present, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who supports stronger U.S. action in Syria, said he was not overly concerned

“I did hear them say there were civilian casualties, but I didn’t get details,” Kinzinger said in an interview with Yahoo News. “But nothing is perfect,” and whatever civilian deaths resulted from the U.S. strikes are “much less than the brutality of the Assad regime.”

Source: Yahoo News
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