Pentagon reacts to problem of civilians dying in US drone strikes
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin plans to establish a “civilian protection center of excellence” in order to monitor and respond to “drone strike lessons learned” and standardize both the reporting of strikes and the compensation of victims, he revealed in a memo to Pentagon staffers on Thursday.
The undersecretary of defense for policy, the comptroller, and other offices received the memo, with instructions to respond within 90 days with their ideas on how to reduce civilian deaths going forward. They’ve been tasked with creating a uniform approach between Defense Department divisions on how civilian drone strikes will be investigated, compensated, and publicized.
The Pentagon has long been accused, both internationally and domestically, of showing disregard for what has infamously been termed “collateral damage” – the high number of civilians killed amid Washington’s growing appetite for drone warfare.
The RAND Corporation – a think tank with deep military ties that’s not known for its anti-war stance – found in a recent study that “thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria” had died in US drone strikes since the launch of the “War on Terror” in 2001 due to a failure to acknowledge, report, or share “past mistakes” among drone operators.
Not only were the civilian casualty estimates given by the Department of Defense “far too low” to be realistic, but they were also “damaging to the department’s credibility,” RAND senior researcher Michael McNerney revealed. He noted that independent estimates of the number of civilian deaths in Syria in 2019 ranged from 490 to 1,118, but the Pentagon’s own figure was just 21.
RAND and the Defense Department concurred that the Pentagon was “not ready for conflicts with potential adversaries like Russia or China,” and that the risk of civilian casualties was “much higher,” with “much more powerful munitions being used on both sides.”
The Pentagon revealed in a 2013 internal memo that its drone strikes had hit their intended target just 10% of the time over the course of a five-month period in Afghanistan. Not only were the strikes often based on bogus intelligence, the agency noted, but even when they hit the correct target, the ensuing deaths were likely to compromise more important intel-gathering operations.