Just not necessarily our fault.
BAGHDAD - A U.S. attack killed 19 insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, northwest of the capital Thursday — one of the heaviest civilian death tolls in an American operation in recent months. The military said it was targeting senior leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq.
American forces have applied fierce and determined pressure on militants, especially al-Qaida in Iraq, since the full contingent of additional U.S. troops arrived June 15. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has recently confronted top American commander Gen. David Petraeus about what he sees as overly aggressive U.S. tactics that harm innocent civilians, according to Iraqi officials.
One of the biggest challenges in Counter-Insurgency (COIN) is managing the tension between a need to conduct combat operations and the desire to minimize civilian casualties. I discussed the way this affects Rules of Engagement in depth yesterday. A factor of this is vividly portrayed in the tragic story above where 15 women and children were killed alongside 19 insurgents. But a fair view of the situation requires us to examine the specifics about the civilians.
If the civilians were innocently sitting in a building that we targeted incorrectly then their deaths rest on us legally and morally. But that is not the case here; we meant to target the buildings we hit because insurgents were in them. We targeted a group of bad guys and hit some of them at one location and then followed the rest to a second location. Both buildings were attacked by aircraft killing the insurgents as well as the women and children. It is unlikely that insurgents would run and try to hide in a random building since all are locked, so it's likely that the women and children are the families of some of the insurgents. Even if they picked a random house, the fault for the deaths of those civilians lies squarely on the terrorists themselves.
There are certainly situations where our forces have been responsible for collateral damage and everything possible should be and is done to avoid that. But when the terrorists purposely put themselves in close proximity to civilians we should not allow that to be sanctuary. That is a cold-blooded and calculated position, but it is the only one that makes any sense and it is firmly supported by the Geneva Conventions.
7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.
If bad guys know they will not be attacked if they hide amongst their own families or other civilians, sadly these bloodthirsty savages have shown they will sacrifice all of them. We should and do feel bad that civilians lost their lives, but we would allow the deaths of more innocents if we don't kill the terrorists.