New Approaches to Reducing and Mitigating Harm to Civilians
SHAPING A GLOBAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR COUNTERINSURGENCY: NEW DIRECTIONS IN ASYMMETRIC WARFARE, William C. Banks, ed., Oxford University Press, 2012
12 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2012 Last revised: 6 Dec 2012
Date Written: Dec 1, 2012
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted the strategic importance of the U.S. commitment to civilian protection. Both wars were eventually fought as a counterinsurgency (COIN) and both revealed how protecting civilians is a central feature of COIN. This chapter examines the importance of civilian casualty mitigation in U.S. counterinsurgency operations, it describes the theoretical and practical lessons learned regarding civilian casualties and situates them in a broader strategic context. The chapter also describes the U.S. military’s newest doctrinal publication aimed specifically at preventing and mitigating harm to civilians.
The chapter concludes noting that protecting the population and winning hearts and minds are well known central planks in counterinsurgency theory. However, achieving these goals is oftentimes harder said than done, especially when the reality of modern operations is a transparent conflict environment in which enemy forces will seek to purposefully cause harm to civilians, and exploit such harm for their own ends. Based on America’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has created the world’s first manual directed at preventing and mitigating harm to civilians in combat. As the discussion in this chapter highlights, the manual is merely the first step in cataloging and sharing lessons learned.
Effective civilian casualty mitigation in counterinsurgencies and other operations will require sustained efforts on the part of the military to act in a way that may exceed the baseline requirements of the law of armed conflict. Ample evidence -- ranging from restrictive rules of engagement to a consistent focus on “lessons learned” -- suggests the U.S. military is already exceeding the requirements of the law of armed conflict. Such actions may not placate critics of U.S. operations, but it may go a long way toward laying the foundation for success in counterinsurgency operations.
Keywords: law of armed conflict, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, counterinsurgency, COIN, Afghanistan, Iraq, harm to civilians, civilian casualties, CIVCAS, collateral damage
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