We’ve talked about the ultra-restrictive ROE hampering Operation Inherent Resolve in the past, and how the allowable level of civilian casualties has been “zero.” Since the fall timeframe, the airstrikes have picked up significantly, thanks to fewer restrictions in place and what seems to be a greater willingness to go after Daesh. That is also resulted in a significant decrease in the availability of munitions to prosecute the air war.
The Pentagon has approved airstrikes that risk more civilian casualties in order to destroy Islamic State targets as part of its increasingly aggressive [air war] against the militant group in Iraq and Syria, according to interviews with military officials and data.
Since last fall, the Pentagon has delegated more authority to the commander of the war, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, to approve targets when there is the risk that civilians could be killed. Previously, authority for missions with the potential to kill innocents had been made by the higher headquarters of U.S. Central Command. Seeking approval from above takes time, and targets of fleeting opportunity can be missed.
Six Defense Department officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe how Islamic State targets are selected and attacked, described a sliding scale of probable civilian casualties based on the value of the target and the location. For example, a strike with the potential to wound or kill several civilians would be permitted if it prevented ISIL fighters from causing greater harm.
Before the change, there were some limited cases in which civilian casualties were allowed, the officials said. Now, however, there are several targeting areas in which the probability of 10 civilian casualties are permitted. Those areas shift depending on the time, location of the targets and the value of destroying them, the officials said.
The riskiest missions require White House approval, said one official, who is closely involved with current targeting plans.
David Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who led its intelligence and surveillance efforts, said easing the restrictions was a necessary but insufficient step toward defeating the Islamic State, or ISIL.
“The gradualistic, painfully slow, incremental efforts of the current administration undercut the principals of modern warfare, and harken back to the approach followed by the Johnson administration,” said Deptula, who now leads the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.